Every parent wants to raise happy, well-adjusted and successful children. Toward that end, I regularly consulted books full of child-rearing advice during times of parental angst. I also wondered what the Bible had to say on the subject and was surprised to find precious little explicit parenting advice. Having learned a thing or two from what the Bible does not say about self-esteem and marriage, I was not discouraged. Sure enough, what the Bible does NOT say about parenting is instructive.
But first, here’s what the Bible does say to parents.
A paraphrase of one of the more explicit teachings on parenting might read something like this, from Ephesians 6:1-4, “Children, obey your parents. They are doing their best. Even if you don’t agree, obey them anyway because it’s the right thing to do. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—because they have more life experience than you do and can save you a lot of trouble and heartache if you just follow their advice. Fathers, do not exasperate your children by yelling at them on the soccer field or being overly critical, instead, love them like the Lord loves you, gently teaching, always being there for them and modeling a Godly life for them.”
It’s a short passage, but a tall order.
Stories of biblical families teach implicit lessons, mostly through their failures. Jacob was notoriously given to favoritism, which he learned from his parents, Isaac and Rebekah. David, for all his brilliance, had more than his share of family dysfunction. I can’t imagine how Solomon had any impact on his children at all, given that he had 700 or so wives, not to mention his concubines. Who knows what went on in that household?
Positive examples are few. Timothy was raised by a Godly mother and grandmother and Ruth did right by her mother-in-law.
What I found most instructive for my parenting was an examination of the way our heavenly Father deals with us – his children. He loves us. He provides for us. He is always with us. He is patient with us and never gives us a job we can’t handle with His help. He picks us up when we fall down. He forgives us over and over and over again. Yes, he demands obedience and lets us take our lumps when we fail, but he is always there for us and restores us when we repent.
What I did NOT find in the Bible were commands to develop straight-A students, star athletes, children of great beauty, gifted musicians, talented writers, or otherwise greatly accomplished children. These are the expectations of a competitive world, not those of God. As far as I can tell, God expects us to teach our children His ways. He commands us to love them and discipline them. He wants us to raise children with a right heart before the Lord and an honorable character. That’s it. The rest is up to God.
What a relief.
All I can say is a big AMEN to it – thank you for sharing this. I read it some time ago and now re-reading it proved just as meaningful and thought-provoking. Good food for thought – thank you! God bless you.
Well Judy, I said I would “hold on to this post” and I find myself back here again. The idea that the Bible gives us parenting advice by what He doesn’t tell us what to do, say, etc. is challenging and perplexing to me and I love it at the same time. I am thinking that God wants to “customize” our parenting journies and so He can’t speak to the masses on that… Just pondering!
I agree with your pondering:) No two families are alike, and we serve a God who gives us the freedom to manage our families as wisely as we can and, thankfully!, led by his Spirit. Every family establishes its own “culture,” don’t you think? It’s wonderful, really, and fun to observe all the variety and creativity as it is expressed in different families. Your children, I happen to know, have the great benefit of watching you and your husband live godly lives of love and service. They are very blessed, and I predict they will one day call you blessed;)
Thanks for your thoughts, Linda!
In response to Sue’s comments, God gave the 10 commandments to Israel to help and protect them, “Gal 3:24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”, . . . knowing that they couldn’t keep them and that he would be providing a different way of salvation. It seems like we as parents, as part of teaching, training and helping our children to grow, need to use “Parent Law” (which hopefully is based on God’s law and wisdom) until they are adult enough to make their own way. We hear that the logical thinking/rational parts of children’s & teens’ brains aren’t fully developed until they are young adults, so we use “Parent Law” to help keep them safe and develop healthy habits (we hope) until their brains have matured. Of course, just as Israel sinned, we still sin and our kids will too, but it seems like our responsibility as parents to raise and teach them as best we can. What do you think?
Well said, Cathy. I agree.
Judy! I loved this post… I am hanging on to this! As a homeschooling household you would think that our family has withdrawn itself from the “competition of producing successful” children. However, that is the contrary! We are continually looked at by those inside and outside the homeschool community to “train up” children that are successful by worldly standards. “Are your kids in sports/music/other activities? Do they participate in their church’s youth group? Are you preparing them for college?” While we do have “yes” to some of these questions, it’s not because “they” have told us it’s the right thing to do but because “He” has led us in living out Proverbs 22:6 “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” That verse, to me, is not about the “doing” but about the relating to Him… We train them now to know our Father — above everything else and with all that we have on this earth as our tools — so that when they are older and not under our influence any longer, that they will not turn from Him and will walk like Noah with them their whole lives! Thanks for the deeper thoughts!
Thanks Linda. It is a struggle to find the right balance, isn’t it? Our children do need to be prepared to succeed in life, but it seems too often that becomes the goal to the exclusion of relationships and spiritual development. For me I had to decide who I trusted to lead my children. Another point of surrender… Thanks for commenting, Linda. I think your children are blessed with wonderful parents:)
So Judy…wondering about parenting. God is our parenting role model, right? As you noted, He loves us, holds up a standard, allows us to “take our lumps” (natural consequences), when we sin, but forgives us and restores us upon repentence. Do we as human parents, put more in the equation, in an effort to “teach” the sin out of our kids? Does God take away privileges, to teach us to be more respectful, or because we haven’t “done our chores?” Does He punish, to try to deter future sin? We know from scripture, that we can’t “law the sin out of us.” It takes His blood to wash us clean and His presence and power for the process of sanctification. Do we, as parents, execute this plan of sin deterance by threatening unpleasant consequences, until our children are motivated and enabled to do right by the perfect love of their heavenly Father,…who has done more for them than we will ever do? Kind of confused about it, really.
Hmmm…what do you think of this idea? As I think about God’s relationship with his people throughout all of Biblical history I wonder if there is something like a parenting progression in the way he related to them. As an infant nation of Israel as they wandered in the desert God led them very physically, fed them manna, and literaly provided for their every need. Like a parent with an infant. Then as they “grew up” a little as a nation, they had more independence but were disciplined by the law. Like kids. “Do your homework. It’s the rule.” As they matured, they wanted to do things “like everyone else” and they rebelled in idolatry just like teenagers. God had to use some tough love in the days of the judges and kings. God did discipline them, could we say?, like a parent disciplining a child all along the way. In Christ, maybe we have the chance to behave like “adults.” Does he still discipline us? Yes, the Bible says he does. We don’t always act like “adults.” Maybe I am over-interpreting here, but it kind of fits. What do you think?
Love your mind. Will think about what you’re saying. In Christ, we finally have a chance to have His life live in us…and through us (spiritual adulthood?). We have the ability to choose to be led by the Spirit. If He still disciplines us when we are “in Christ,” what is His purpose? Look forward to pondering Israel’s childhood. Maybe in my dreams. Night. 🙂