One of the most awesome opportunities in life is to influence the life of a child. Parenting a child is like sitting on the front row of the future. You have the chance to nurture a growing and dynamic person to be someone exceptional for the glory of God and the good of others. Just like gardening, teaching your children can involve pricking your finger on some “thorns” from time to time, but the hard work of “pruning” your garden of children can result in beautiful blooms throughout their lifetime.
With such an awesome opportunity comes immense responsibility. How do we wield such influence? How can we make the most of our opportunity? Nobody I’ve met wants to fail their children. Nevertheless, a lot of well-meaning parents are concerned about whether or not they are putting into place the right philosophies and practices for proper parenting.
I’ve often heard it said that “babies don’t come with instruction manuals.” Since I have three kids of my own, I can tell you that this is literally true. I’ve never left the hospital with any manual in hand. Fortunately, I already owned the instruction book for all of life including the parenting of my children. This book is also available to everyone. That book, of course, is the Bible.
Within the Bible we will discover the responsibility of all parents to teach their children, the guidelines for establishing rules to regulate our homes, and the importance of developing relationships with our children.
Our Responsibility is Our Opportunity
From the beginning, God intended for parents to teach their children to observe the Word of God. Parents cannot delegate that responsibility to others; it is their personal obligation to raise their children. It is not the responsibility of the church, the government, the school, or any other person to raise your children. While these entities may play a role in the development of your children, remember that God gave them to you with the commandment to raise your children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. – Deuteronomy 6:6-7
The first aspect of our responsibility in parenting is to recognize that God’s Word must be in our heart. Parents must first commit to becoming Christians who leave the world and cleave to the Bible. Children cannot be taught what the parent hasn’t first caught. A Christian parent is one who is committed to Christ. As you make God the center of your life, your children will learn to follow in your footsteps. Christian living is the first part of Christian teaching. If your children had only your example to follow, how would they behave? Would they be gracious and kind when annoyances come along, or would they throw tantrums and become obstinate toward others? How you respond in any situation will establish the pattern for the actions and attitudes of your children before any words of instruction ever form in your mouth.
Secondly, the Christian parent teaches through direct instruction. What is teaching? Teaching is providing instruction that results in a change from an ungodly character trait or in unscriptural conduct to an attitude or action that glorifies the Lord. To teach is to touch a life, and to change it forever. You must discern the moments in life when the time to teach is apparent. This could happen at any time or any place – when children are sitting in the house, when they are outside, before they go to bed, or when they wake up in the morning. That is why parents must be “diligent” to seize every teachable moment in order to shape their children’s character and conduct to reflect the Lord Jesus Christ.
Though the responsibility is great, Christian parents must think about the wonderful opportunity that lies before them and their children. Imagine your children growing up to be faithful followers of the Lord who seek wisdom and find happiness (Proverbs 3:13), who endure trials and bless others (James 1:12), and who knows the Lord and will make Him known (Philippians 3:10). Imagine the possibilities of raising children who give their lives to godliness and wholesome living. By capitalizing on your opportunity as a parent, you are broadening the opportunities of your children to make a lasting impact on this world, starting first with your own family and expanding to horizons yet unknown. If you want to dream about the opportunities, be sure to be diligent in your responsibilities.
Let the Lord Build the House
Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: – Psalm 127:1a
The establishment of biblical rules to govern the home can ensure that the Lord is the one “building” the house. It also facilitates the development of character and the direction of conduct. Using the Bible to set the guidelines helps everyone to keep the Lord and His Word as the central figures of the home. To put a finer point on this discussion, the Bible must be used as the guideline because it is God’s tool to bring about the maturity of each believer (II Timothy 3:16-17) which is one of the chief goals in parenting.
I encourage you to think about the rules in your home and match them to biblical principles. If they don’t match, then you should change your rules to conform to the Bible. As you study the Bible, you may find that you need to add some new rules as well. Here are a few examples to get you going:
Establish rules about:
•What to watch (Psalm 101:3)
As the father of young children, I know that there are some cartoons that I don’t find appropriate for my daughters to watch. As they grow older, this fact will not change. My wife and I have to monitor everything they watch in order to make sure they aren’t setting “wicked things before [their] eyes.” This principle covers more than just the TV, but it’s a good place to start.
•What to listen to (Ephesians 5:19)
Music is a powerful tool that can make or break your Christian life. The music of the home helps to set the environment in which we live. Listening to ungodly music will only shatter your Christian life, not strengthen it. As the Bible states, Christians should listen to “spiritual” songs. Unfortunately, rock, rap, and country styles of music have infiltrated churches disguised as “Christian” music. Just because a song has Christian words doesn’t make it good Christian music. Jude warned that “certain men have crept in unawares” to destroy the teachings of the church, and that same principle applies to the musicians that have crept into our churches and destroyed our worship. Find and listen to music that appeals to your spirit before it appeals to your flesh. Listening to godly music will help your spiritual life and help your children to learn more about the Lord.
There are many other things our children should not listen to, including gossip, cursing words, and other derogatory and ungodly speech. Help your children to keep their ears pure by monitoring what goes into them.
•How to communicate (Ephesians 4:29)
Parents should teach their children how to talk to others. This will include how they speak to you (the parents), siblings, teachers, and other people. Not only should children learn to be respectful, but they should learn to be encouragers as well. Establish rules the help them learn how to “edify” and “minister grace” to others.
•How to behave (II Timothy 2:22)
There are various lists throughout the Bible that tell us things that we should do and things we should avoid. Many parents like to form lists of “dos” and “don’ts.” Usually such a lists are shortsighted because they don’t include an explanation of the reasoning behind the rule. Good parenting and teaching requires rules and instructions simultaneously. If you are going to teach your children how to act, then you should teach your children how not to act as well. Then you should follow up with an explanation from Scripture as to why that action is wise or foolish, respectively. I have found that each topic in the Bible presents both the positive and negative admonitions (e.g. “put off concerning the former conversation the old man…put on the new man…” Ephesians 4:22, 24). Keep a good balance with your children by telling them what they should stop doing and teach them from the Bible about the appropriate behavior.
•How to be an example (I Timothy 4:12)
This rule is for you, parents. All of the rules for your home equally apply to you. I’ve never met anyone who had any tolerance for a hypocrite. If you’re going to enforce the rules of the home then you should be the example of the fulfillment of those rules. If you watch or listen to ungodly things, you can’t expect your children to honor you or to obey your rules. If you yell at your children all the time then you can’t reasonably expect your children to be respectful to others. You will identify what is acceptable in your home by your actions.
I completely understand that no parent is perfect. I have had to apologize to my children several times for making mistakes while parenting. Yet, even this is a teachable moment. It teaches your children that situations can still be corrected when people humble themselves, accept responsibility for their actions, and seek restoration (which are all biblical principles). Parents, you must be the example “in word, in conversation [lifestyle], in charity [love], in spirit, in faith, and in purity.”
The Heart of the Home
My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways. – Proverbs 23:26
Just as important as rules is the principle of building a relationship with your children. Relationships are the heart of the home. A good parent strives to reach the heart of their children, and this is only done by spending time with them. Relationships don’t happen by accident; capturing the heart of your children requires a daily investment in their lives. You should take the time to learn about your children, to figure out their personalities, to identify their struggles, to see their strengths, to inquire about their goals and dreams, to discover their studies in school, to learn about their favorite events and activities, and to do all you can to keep your kids close to your heart. When you capture their heart, you can more easily share your heart with them. You can tell them how you love the Lord, how you enjoy your job, how you dream of the future, what you desire for their lives, and many other thoughts of your heart. As you draw closer to them, they will draw closer to you. They will “observe” your ways, and follow after the things you love and cherish (so you better make sure your priorities are right, by the way).
This is important for more than just the “warm and fuzzy” feelings of family togetherness. There are three vital principles each parent must understand:
•Rules without a relationship will lead to rebellion.
There are parents who view their role as strict disciplinarians. These parents establish rules and policies to govern their children, but they also engage in a lot of “policing” of them as well. These parents have a tendency to repel their children because they often do not take the time to get to know their children. The rules become so rigid that approaching parents becomes difficult. While I concede that rules are rules to be kept, a good parent is a teaching parent. Authoritarian parents often neglect the aspect of teaching in their parenting and simply expect their children to comply or face the consequences. As the children grow up, they disdain the iron rule of their parents and rebel against authority once they are “old enough” to do what they want. They insist on living on their terms, and even forget that God is the authority more so than their authoritarian parents. The parents promoted a false concept of religion and even the Lord Himself, and the kids go to the other extreme of a free-swinging lifestyle. I’ve watched the heartache of many parents when their kids grow up to become rebels. The Proverb is true, “A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him” (Proverbs 17:25).
•A relationship without rules will lead to rebellion.
There are parents that view their role as a friend to their children. These parents are slow to establish any boundaries, and often those boundaries are ambiguous. Parents of this sort value flexibility and self-direction. They are generally undemanding and warm, but their children lack maturity and self-control. Because these parents are not demanding, the children rarely hear the word “no.” As the children grow, they know no boundaries and they live wildly:
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. – Proverbs 22:15
The foolish child will become a foolish adult. Anyone who determines to live their life on the sifting sands of sin will see the destruction of their house, which is completely the opposite of what the Lord desires for each home (Matthew 7:26-27; Psalm 127:1a), However, if you correct your children then you will drive foolishness away and impart wisdom in its place (Proverbs 29:15, 17).
•Rules within a relationship lead to righteous living.
There are parents who find the balance between authoritative administration of the rules and the development of healthy relationships between parents and children. These parents exert control through reason and example based on clearly communicated standards without harshness. They are not unkind, and they take time to explain things to their children. Children understand that their parents love them despite the guidelines that have been established by them. It is the balance between love and control. These parents recognize that discipline is not something you do to a child, but that it is something you do for a child. They clearly teach the significance of biblical constraints (things you must do) and restraints (things you must not do). Children grow to understand the realities of the Christian life while leaning on the trust they have in their parents. When children are trained in this manner, when they are old they will not depart from these teachings (Proverbs 22:6).
When the home is governed by the Word of God and regulated by loving and spiritual parents, the home becomes a sweet place to spend life. The home is center of Christian learning because it is the center of Christian living. Therefore, your children will learn the most about the Christian life through their experience in the home. If your child was asked to state the name of the best Christian they know, would they say your name? Would they say, “My daddy is the best Christian I know,” or, “My mommy is the best Christian I know”? I thank God for the many godly mentors my children have in their lives (our pastor, Sunday school teachers, youth pastor, grandparents, and others in the church), but I want to be the greatest model of righteous Christian living that my kids will ever see. In order to do this, I must strive to lead my home with an open Bible and a loving heart. If you’re going to let the Lord build a household of faith in your house, take the time to establish these biblical principles for parenting!