Practically Spiritual Parenting Part Two
Topic: Parenting Passage: Ephesians 4:2
Grace Community Church
Nov. 26, 2017
Practically Spiritual Parenting Part Two
Last week we looked at parenting and the work of God on our hearts as parents. This morning we’re going to consider what the Bible has to say on the subjects of disciplining and instructing our children as well as how all that transitions as they get older.
Our greatest goal as parents is to point our children to the greatness, glory, and grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. To help them to come to know and trust and love the Lord. Deut. 6:4-9 tells us to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength and to impress on our children that love. And we are to do this using every moment of life including the messy moments of life. Eph. 6 tells us the primary tools that God has given us to accomplish this task.
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Eph. 6:4
Bringing our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord
Discipline and instruction. Those are the primary tools God has given us to help point our kids towards the Lord. The Greek word “discipline” means to train and the word “instruction” means to admonish, warn, and counsel. Instruction has more to do with the teaching aspect of parenting, and discipline speaks of the training aspect of our task and these two things go together. We teach and we train.
Instruction doesn’t just happen when we formally teach our kids. The saying, “more is caught than taught” is true. We teach our kids all the time, whether we know it or not. As Christians we do want to bring our children up knowing the Bible and biblical truths, particularly the grace of God given to us through Christ. However, our job isn’t done just because we’ve taught them biblical truths. As parents we are to bring them up in the training (discipline) of the Lord. We are to train their character to bend towards biblical values. Let’s take a few minutes to look at the discipline aspect of our parental task. For that let’s look at Heb. 12:5-11.
Notice that we are to bring them up in the discipline…of the Lord. Our discipline is to reflect the type of discipline that the Lord brings to His children. And that’s what we see described in Heb. 12:
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Heb. 12:5-11
There are two big truths about the discipline of the Lord that I want to pull out of these verses.
Discipline is always to be an expression of love
The Lord always disciplines His children from love. If He loves us, He disciplines us, because discipline is an expression of love. God is treating us as His children when He disciplines us. If God didn’t discipline us it would mean we aren’t His children. When that sinks in we’ll never look at the Lord’s discipline the same way. We’d pray “bring it on, Lord. Please discipline me!” because discipline is an expression of God’s father love for us.
God works in our lives to help us grow in Christ-likeness, training us to say yes to obedience and no to ungodliness, and as we will see in a moment, sometimes that discipline includes painful consequences. But our heavenly Father never disciplines us out of annoyance or capriciousness or maliciousness. Always His heart is motivated by nothing but the deepest of love for us. When God allows sadness or pain into our lives, it’s because He knows that sadness or pain will ultimately bring about our greatest good.
10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. Heb. 12:10
Bringing our children up in the discipline of the Lord means we discipline out of love as well. As we train our children towards adulthood, our motivation and methods should always flow from our deep love for our children and a commitment to what’s best for them. Our kids should know and always be reminded of our love for them.
We’ll come back to this as we unpack the second big truth about discipline found in these verses, but I was reminded of one aspect of this on Tuesday night as we were discussing parenting at our community group. Someone mentioned the importance of relationship over rules and I want to underline that point this morning. Our homes and our discipline should emphasize relationship over rules. We want our children to see the awesome beauty of the gospel lived out in the home – Titus 2 says we are make the teaching of the Savior attractive – and the core of the gospel is relationship, not rules. When people grow up seeing Christianity as a set of do’s and don’ts, Christ hardly looks attractive to them. We want our children – and the world – to see following Christ as the best possible way to live because Jesus is an awesome Savior. He is good, and loving, and merciful. He is righteous and just and powerful. He died to restore us – not to rules, but to relationship with God as our Father. Our homes and our discipline should emphasize relationship to our children, how much we love and value them as people, and what it’s like to follow Jesus in the messiness of life. Discipline is to be an expression of loving relationship.
Discipline brings short term pain for long term gain
11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Heb. 12:11
For young children, I believe this includes spanking. Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. Prov. 13:24 I realize that there are different views on this, but the Bible specifically advises us to use the rod (spanking) in the rearing of our children when they are young and when done in a right way, I believe and have seen it to bear good fruit in the long run.
The reason that discipline needs to have some measured and loving degree of pain has to do with the nature of fallen man in general and your child’s heart specifically. You see, when your little bundle of joy was born, joy wasn’t the only thing bundled in their heart! Let me explain what I mean.
There is a big push these days with some companies to bundle services. That way you get savings and they sell you more of their product. For example, our family bundles our internet and TV services and save money by doing so. Progressive Insurance has a new set of commercials that lays out the dangers of “parentamorphosis”, a condition that occurs when a young person begins to take on more and more responsibility in life. They start becoming like their parents. Progressive warns, “we can’t protect you from becoming your parents, but we can protect your home and auto.” The solution: bundle your home and auto insurance.
Your child’s heart came pre-bundled. Prov. 22:15 says, Folly (foolishness) is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. It might come as some relief when you see your kid doing foolish things even at a very young age, that they may not have learned that foolishness by studying you. It’s like when you get a computer and it comes with Windows 10 already installed – your kid had foolishness already installed in him or her when you got them. Foolishness was wrapped around your child’s heart at birth. Have you ever wondered why your kids are attracted to the silly, and the inane, and the foolish like bees to pollen? My wife is a teacher’s assistant to a pre-school class at Corning Christian Academy, and she sees a lot of joy, but she also witnesses a lot of pre-bundled foolishness. A couple weeks ago one of the girls, who is normally a bundle of joy in the class, was having a really bad day and she was racking up all kinds of disciplines and corrections, and I guess she figured she had nothing to lose so at one point in the day she decided to send a message to Mrs. Snapp and Mrs. Ward by mooning them. Janice and Flo look across the room during nap time and there’s this 4 year girl mooning them! Now where did she learn that? Probably not from her parents. Parents don’t have to train their kids to do foolish things. You don’t have to sit your kid down and say, “now, honey, there will be times when you’re dissatisfied with the way someone handles something, and when that happens, what I have found to be helpful is to pull down your pants and moon them.”
Kids are absolutely precious and blessings, but the biblical truth is they also come with rebellion, defiance, tantrums, hitting, not sharing, jealousy, and many other forms of foolishness pre-bundled in their hearts. But why does the Bible say the rod of discipline will drive that foolishness far from them?
To answer that question, let’s take a walk through Wal-Mart. Stores often bring out unusual levels of foolishness in kids and put all kinds of parenting philosophies on display. Remember the dad I mentioned last week in Wal-Mart who was shopping with his two kids and his 3 year old son was screaming at the top of his lungs for something he wanted? That dad was quietly trying to accommodate his son’s demands but wasn’t doing it fast enough, so as they left my aisle and headed down the next aisle, that little guys was still screaming at the top of his lungs.
Another response I’ve seen frequently to a child acting up is what I call the “empty threat”. “You need to stop that right now.” The kid doesn’t stop. “I’m warning you, you’d better stop behaving like that right now.” No change. “I’m going to count to three and you don’t want me to reach 3.” Sometimes the parent finally gets angry enough to swat the kid, sometimes they look up in exasperation and say, “he/she just doesn’t listen to me.”
There’s also the “yell at the kid loudly in an angry voice” approach and the “appease them at any cost” approach. “OK, if I give you that candy, will you finally be good?”
The Bible is concerned with more than just “shutting that kid up.” The Bible gives us insight into the heart of the boy or girl and what will help or destroy them as they grow up. There is, bound up in the heart of a child, a foolish self-centeredness and rebellion and craving for his or her own way that pretty much rules that little 3 year olds heart. Their little hearts are literally out of control as a craving that is stronger than they are overtakes their heart. In that moment, they don’t want mom and dad to be in charge, they want to be in charge. Which is foolish, but it’s what they want. It’s a lot like us, when we want to rule our lives rather than submit our lives to God’s good and wise rulership. It’s insane, but we want to be our own gods rather than obey the one True God.
If we appease their craving, they learn that they’ll get what they want if they demand it forcefully enough. When that three year old turns 22 they won’t be screaming from aisle to aisle anymore. That craving and demanding will morph into a more sophisticated approach, but it will still be the ruling power in their life as they go from one craving to another feeling entitled to have all their demands met and resentful when they don’t get their way.
The “yell at them in an angry voice” misses their deepest need and does more damage than good. Not only does it not help them deal with the internal craving that is raging in their heart, it also teaches them that anger is the way to respond to situations they don’t like. Anger begets anger. And the parent who throws out empty threats is wrong to say “my child just doesn’t listen to me”. Actually they’re listening more closely than you think and they’ve learned that your threats are empty. Why obey on the 1st threat when they know they can at least push it to the third threat before anything is going to happen?
But while we’re in Wal-Mart, there’s also the parent whose favorite word is “no”. Automatically shutting down every request isn’t what’s best for your child’s heart either. There are children who are afraid to ask for anything, cause their parents get angry at any request, as if it’s wrong for the child to want anything. That doesn’t help a child learn to discern between asking and demanding. Sometimes the answer should be yes.
The purpose of discipline isn’t to vent frustration or teach your kid a lesson they’ll never forget. The purpose of discipline is to help the child’s heart deal with the out of control cravings in their heart. At first it might just be a firm “no” (and by the way, while we shouldn’t parent out of anger, it’s necessary to be firm at times). If they don’t listen to that, the point of discipline is to teach their hearts that there are painful consequences to rebellion and disobedience. That pain can come in the form of a spanking, or denying something they want, or some other painful consequence, but it isn’t meant to harm them, it’s meant to teach them in a manageable way that foolishness has painful consequences. If a parent allows that foolishness to go unaddressed in their child, the painful consequences that child will face later in life will be much worse than a swat on the behind, and in fact often can be devastating as they get older.
Here’s a basic idea of how I believe discipline – particularly when a spanking is needed- should look (and there are times when we blew it): it shouldn’t be done in public. We are never out to shame or embarrass our children, so we take them to a private place. There you explain to your child what their infraction was (disobedience, disrespect, anger, selfishness, or whatever) and why they are getting a spanking. Never hit your child out of anger. Spanking is never to be abusive or out of control. It’s never slapping a face or punching or any other kind of hitting. It is to be a controlled and measured spanking on the cushioned area God equipped your child with to accept loving spankings – the rear end. Afterwards the mom or dad should immediately affirm their love for that child and give a hug. Discipline is to be an expression of love, not anger or getting something off our chest. A child shouldn’t leave a discipline feeling the anger of their parent, they should leave feeling the love of their parent. This helps avoid a child burning with resentment and anger towards their parent because love is so central even to their discipline. And our hope for the child is that they’d see their wrong and ask for forgiveness. The goal is to train their hearts in a respectful, obedient, God-honoring direction.
In our house we’d often see (not always) our kids temperament become much sweeter afterwards. Their out-of-control hearts were under control again. Their disrespectful attitudes were respectful again. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Heb. 12:11
The point of discipline is to lovingly help your child overcome foolishness with self-control. To choose respect over disrespect, obedience or defiance, humility over pride, submission to authority over rebellion. Helping a child obey and respect their parent helps position their hearts to obey and respect God as the ultimate authority.
Transitioning as our children get older
Before we wrap up I want to take just a couple minutes to consider the important transition that happens as our children get older. I mentioned last week how our greatest prayer and goal as parents is to help our children come to know the grace and glory and beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ and to become his disciples. That will always be the ultimate goal for Christian parents. We can’t save our children, only God can save them, and if you have children who are straying away from the Lord you can’t take the burden of guilt on your shoulders. Pray for them, love them, and put all your trust in the only One who can save them, and that is God.
But along with that spiritual goal of pointing our children to Christ, is the very practical goal of raising our children to be responsible adults. And to do that well, we have to navigate the transition between childhood and adulthood well. I would describe that transition as giving the child more and more responsibility to make their own decisions and choices as they get older. There is no formula for this, and different children mature and can handle more responsibility at different ages, but you can’t wait until they reach 21 to give them responsibility. We need to start letting the line out when they’re younger and help guide them in their decision-making.
As parents we need to keep something in mind: our goal isn’t to make sure our kids “do what we say” even into adulthood. Our goal is to help our children become wise and make wise decisions. They may make decisions we wouldn’t make, they may make choices we wouldn’t make, and we need to be ok with that. Are they processing those decisions and choices wisely? Are they seeking to honor God and obey His commands in those choices?
So as they get older we tell them what to do less and less, and talk to them about what to do and why more and more. We emphasize authority less and less and emphasize responsibility more and more. We correct less and counsel more. When they’re young it’s enough to say, “because I said so.” But when they’re 12 that doesn’t always cut it, they need a fuller understanding of why we’re telling them to do or not to do something. And that transition continues until they reach young adulthood, and it’s our hope that we’ve built a strong enough relational bridge that they value and seek out our counsel even as adults. Part of that will be because they know we won’t “tell them what to do” but will offer counsel and advice but will respect their need to make their own decisions and choices.
Our kids won’t always make wise choices in life. They will make some mistakes. Just like we did. And they will need to learn from those mistakes. But if we miss this transition and try to spare them the hard knocks of bad choices and mistakes by micro-managing them and telling them what they should do as they become adults, more than likely what we’ll end up doing is distancing ourselves from them and they won’t come to us for advice at all.
For all of this, for the incredibly wonderful but challenging task of parenting, it takes great wisdom and help from the Lord. Sometimes we need to ask other parents who are further down the road for their input. I remember Janice and I receiving very helpful advice regarding Jennifer when she was 12 and we were concerned we weren’t seeing more spiritual activity in her life. Warren and Kim Boettcher advised us, “keep the doors of communication open, but don’t try to kick the doors open.” It helped us realize to trust God and not try to pressure her or make something happen. Don’t be afraid to go to parents who are further down the road, and whose example you respect, and ask for their input on the challenge you’re facing.
There is so much more that could be said, but let me recommend a couple books: Dare to Discipline by James Dobson and Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, by Paul Tripp. If you have teenage children, Paul Tripp has a book called Age of Opportunity that I also recommend.
Let’s close by going to our heavenly Father for His help and grace and guidance.