If you’ve ever asked that question about parenting you know as well as I do, that there are lots of people willing to offer help out there. It seems like everybody has an idea about what it takes to be a good parent, especially people who are not parents. Besides all the advice you can get from your friends, it’s amazing how many books and articles have been written on parenting.
While I’m thankful for all the good, biblically sound help we can get on parenting I think it is very important in the midst of it all to understand that the Scripture’s instructions on parenting are really not all that complicated. Certainly there are many different principles you could draw from many different passages of Scripture on parenting, but the fact of the matter is you could fit most of what the New Testament teaches directly on parenting on a half-sheet of paper, and what Paul tells us in Colossians 3:20 and 21 on a 3 by 5 card.
Personally, I find that very helpful.
Although you could spend the rest of your life reading all the articles and books about parenting that are out there, and all those tips, and all theories and all talk about parenting can make it seem really complicated; when you come back to Scripture, you discover that when it comes to the specific task of Christian parenting, there are basically two fundamental things you need to know and those two fundamental things are really pretty simple.
You need to know what Jesus wants from your children and you need to know what Jesus expects from you.
We will look at the first today and the second tomorrow.
You can imagine that the members of the Colossian church, who had recently been converted out of a really wicked lifestyle, and wanted to live for Jesus, would have been looking at their children, and thinking, “What do we do?” So Paul gives them a primer on Christian parenting in verses 20 and 21. He brings them back to the fundamentals.
What Jesus Wants From Your Children
As Christian parents, it’s vital that what is most important to God when it comes to our children is most important to us.
Unfortunately we all know that is often not the case.
If you gathered together a group of non-Christians who were “expecting” and asked them to describe the qualities they most wanted to see in their children, I’m sure you would receive a wide variety of answers.
There would be some, probably more than you’d expect, who wouldn’t have any idea how to answer that question. They haven’t thought about what they are looking for their children to become in the future, they just want to try to survive in the present. Others, and this is amazing but it’s true, would be primarily concerned about the child’s gender. The quality, if you can call it that, which they would be most concerned about is that their child be a boy or a girl. Beyond that, it’s all icing on the cake. There are others whose priorities would be a bit different. They might answer that they wanted children who were nice, or good at sports; or popular; or happy; or well-adjusted; or even rich.
People have all sorts of different goals for their children. I’m sure if we took a poll this morning there would be differences in the qualities that even you as Christian parents consider to be most important. The fact is I don’t know what qualities you most want to see in your children. I do know however, if you asked the apostle Paul to describe the qualities Jesus wants to see in children his answer would be quite different than most.
We find that answer here. He describes two qualities that should be very important to us as Christian parents. Unsurprisingly, one of these qualities we don’t hear much about from the world, and more surprisingly one, we don’t hear much about from the church.
First, the quality he emphasizes which we don’t hear much about from the world is, obedience.
Paul writes, “Children obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord.”
Now obedience is “out” in our culture. If there is any obedience going on in families, it is usually parents obeying their children. Those who do actually expect obedience from their children are often considered rigid and strict. Many think of obedience as too strong a term, and if it is a priority for them, it is a priority way down at the bottom of the list.
Not so for God. Look at God’s list of priorities for children. It’s on the top. Paul writes, “Children obey your parents…” That’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. A command not just found here, but all throughout Scripture. One so important for us to understand, that God gives it a prominent place in the Ten Commandments. One of the ways He makes it stand out is by making promises about it. In fact, this is the only command out of the Ten where God makes a specific promise to those who obey it – they will be blessed. Another way God emphasizes the importance of this command is by making warnings about it. If you read the Old Testament you’ll be shocked by what the nation of Israel was to do with flagrantly disobedient children. Disobeying your parents is such a serious sin that in the New Testament, Paul includes it, in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, in his description of how wicked people will be in the last days. “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents…” In our culture, with all the talk about children’s rights what we need to understand that what is right is for children to obey their parents. Obedience is really, really important to God.
Therefore, one of our primary responsibilities as Christian parents is to teach our children “what it means” to obey. Fortunately, that’s not all that difficult. I mean, it’s not really that difficult to define what it means to obey. Obeying your parents means “doing what your parents want you to do.” O.K., we have to go a step further than just that, because the command to obey is often linked with the command to honor. Honor has to do with attitude. So we know obedience is much more than just an external thing. It’s “doing what your parents want you to do with a good attitude.”
Now you may be thinking, that is intense. The fact is it is even more intense than you think.
Because you see Paul adds, “in everything.” That means the only time a child has a reason not to obey his parents is if his parents are asking him to sin. Other than that Paul says, “Children obey your parents in every respect.” It’s not just about a child doing what their parents want with a good attitude when what their parents want is what they want, it’s about a child doing what their parents want with a good attitude even when what their parents want is different than what they want. Not just some of the time, but all the time. What God wants is for children to do what their parents want them to do, consistently. Not simply because it is what their parents want, but because they know it is what Jesus wants. That’s the key. Paul explains, “Children obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord.” The idea here is of a child who knows Jesus is Lord and loves Jesus as Lord and because He loves Jesus as Lord He wants to do what Jesus wants, and he knows that what Jesus wants is for Him to obey his parents, so unless his parents are asking him to sin, he chooses to obey them in absolutely everything. Because he knows that Jesus wants “Children to obey their parents, not simply because they want their parents to think they are great, not simply because they don’t want to get a spanking, but ultimately because they want to please Jesus.”
That’s the first quality that should be important to us.
But it’s not the only quality. The second quality Paul describes is just as significant as the first. It’s one I don’t think we hear enough about in the church. It has to do with courage.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
I would say that many parents within the church, especially conservative churches, know they have a responsibility to call their children to obey. One of their primary goals is to produce obedient children who love the Lord. But, especially within conservative churches, I would say that many parents do not seem to understand that they have a responsibility to help their children be courageous and full of joy. One of their primary goals should be rear joyful, courageous children.
You see Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Lest means, “God doesn’t want this.” Really, this verse is a warning. Paul is saying, you have to watch out. You need to call your children to be obedient, sure, but listen when you do that, remember God doesn’t want your children to become discouraged.
When a person is discouraged he has lost heart, he lacks joy, he isn’t courageous and strong. And to be very blunt with you, I’ve met a lot of Christian children like that. If I look to the world I see many children who are out of control, when I look to the church I see many children who are broken. Sure they obey their parents, but there is no life in them. I can picture them in my minds eye, their hair is combed just so, they walk with their heads hanging low, they are kind of like robots. You know their dad crosses his legs and the whole family crosses their legs the same way at the same time. These children are kind of like walking zombies. They remind a little of a pet that’s been beaten. If you’ve ever gone to pet a dog that has been beaten, what does it do? It winces. These children live their lives with a permanent wince. Nervous. Afraid. They lack courage. They have no heart.
God doesn’t want that for your children.
Obedient, yes. Discouraged, no.
And if God doesn’t want that for your children, we could say positively, He wants the opposite. He does want your children to have heart, to be courageous and strong and to experience joy. And what Paul wants you to understand here is that you have a responsibility in that. It’s possible for you to parent in a way that creates an environment in which it is easy for your children to be discouraged, and it’s possible for you to parent in such a way that creates an environment in which it is easier for your children to experience joy and develop courage.
Now if there are many in the world who would disagree with what we said about obedience, there are many who would agree with what we just said about courage and joy. I’m sure those qualities would be high on almost any unbelieving parents list. We even hear a lot of talk about the importance of self-confidence. But obviously, that’s not exactly what Paul is talking about. This is not self-confidence. It’s better than that. God doesn’t want your children to be courageous and strong in and of themselves. This is not having Johnny sit in a corner and say he loves himself thirty times a day. Instead this is about constantly pointing your children to Christ. This is about children who are courageous and joyful because they are looking to Him for their strength and happiness.
As Christian parents, it is vital what is most important to God is most important to us. If our objectives aren’t biblical, it doesn’t matter how many parenting tips we hear or how many parenting books we read, our parenting is going to fall short of truly Christian parenting.
When it comes to what God wants for our children, there’s a beautiful balance that we as parents must always keep in the forefront of our minds. Obedience, yes. Discouragement, no. Courage and joy, yes. Disobedience, no. So many parents emphasize one quality to the detriment of the other. As Christian parents, we must strive to be balanced. The key to keeping that balance is putting Christ first. Obedience for the sake of obedience is nothing all that great. And confidence for the sake of confidence is nothing all that special. What we’re shooting for is,
* “Children who are consistently obedient because they love the Lord.”
* “Children who are joyfully courageous because they hope in the Lord.”
That’s what Jesus wants for your children. And that’s the first fundamental principle we need to know about parenting.