"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6
Monday, October 24, 2011
A Biblical Theology of Parenting
My husband and I just completed an online Biblical Theology of the New Testament class. As part of our final exam, we each had to write a Biblical theology of parenting. It was a great exercise, and I highly recommend Christian parents do the same exercise and tape it to the refrigerator! My husband and I both agreed we wish we had done this when we first became Christians. So here it is, my Biblical theology of parenting:
Biblical parenting involves loving, teaching, training, guiding, disciplining and mentoring.
Ephesians 6:1-4 is a great place to start: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor 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.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
If parents do not first teach respect for parents, then parents are going to find themselves swimming against a very strong current the majority of the time. Finding the balance laid out in the Ephesians verses is key: parents must teach and discipline. Yet, as the verse states, parents must not exasperate their children (Colossians 3:21) by putting unrealistic expectations on them or disciplining too severely or constantly without also praising, encouraging and edifying (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We've all heard "pick your battles" but maybe that should be re-phrased as "don't pick battles" in the first place! "Battle" implies stubbornness and the digging in of one's heels for the long haul, often justified as its being "the principle of the thing." But what principle? At what cost? To whose benefit?
The training and instruction of the Lord can be found as a teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:14 when Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them…”
How is it that parents can hinder their children’s coming to Jesus? Well, by not creating and maintaining a Christian home in belief, thought and deed. Also, by not having a consistent church life at a sound, Bible-believing church (consistent does not mean the church takes over one's family life. Each family must decide as a family what they want to become involved in at church, and how much. The amount of involvement that works for one family may be disruptive in another). In addition, parents can hinder their children’s “coming to Jesus” and growing in Christ by failing to be Christian mentors. If parents watch violence or mediocre, tasteless programming on TV or too much TV, skip daily prayer and Bible time, cuss, cheat, lie, gossip, eat to excess, drink alcohol or abuse prescription drugs, they will indeed be getting in the way of their children’s ability to come to Jesus, especially during the younger developmental years when establishing a Christian walk is so important.
Mark 9:42 goes along with the previous point: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” Parents have been entrusted with God’s children. Just as we are not are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), our children are not our own: they belong to God and are His creation (Psalm 139:13). God will hold parents accountable as to whether they were Godly teachers and a Godly influence or a stumbling block to their children (God does not expect parents to be perfect. But He does expect contrition and repentance from parents and children alike when they sin).
The other key verse for parents to rely on in their parenting, and to teach to their children, is 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test everything” (also Romans 12:2). I’ve said this to my children and continue to remind myself of it many times (and wish I had been more proactive at it in my early faith life, when my children were aged 10 and 7). But as my sons are now in college (and my husband and I participate in the online Bible class), I am relying on this verse quite a bit as we all discuss what we hear from classmates, professors and textbooks.
Another key to parenting is to realize we are sinners and live in a fallen world (yes, even cute little two-year olds are sinners. This realization alone should make parents not take bad behavior personally!). This, I believe, is where love is needed most; not to excuse bad behavior, but to make room for the inevitable tripping into sin and making of mistakes. Colossians 3:13-14 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love; which binds them all together in perfect unity” (the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a great illustration of this).
As I enter my 6th month of empty-nestness, the above verse holds even more meaning. No one could have prepared me for how much I miss my children, and, in looking back, the desire that more of Colossians 3 would have taken place and less of “sweating the small stuff.” Once my sons left home, I realized how those little irksome qualities of my children are really quite endearing, and it might not be so bad to have a pile of my son’s junk sitting on the dining room table! I guess that’s why empty-nesters make such wonderful grandparents!
Finally, if I had to select one passage from Scripture to give to new parents, it would be Philippians 4:4-9: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Parents must, in prayer, humble submission, thankfulness and Godly love for our children, give ourselves, our parenting and our children over to God on a daily basis.
copyright Barb Harwood