Parenting is a difficult task in every culture. Children are born with a bent towards selfishness and the determination to fulfill their desires. Every parent has observed their child grab a toy from another child and scream “Give it to me!” And every parent has rushed in with, “Now, Johnny, we must learn to share. Let your sister play with….” The language may differ and the exact expression may vary, but the scene is repeated with siblings, with friends and with school mates. However, the selfish child is only half of the problem. We, the selfish parents, are the other half of the problem.
An examination of the patriarchal families of the Old Testament gives us some insight into the importance of parental behavior in the child rearing enterprise. Take a walk with me through these families and observe the patterns.
The record of Abraham’s lying and the transfer to his son is evident when we read Genesis 12:12-20, Genesis 20 and Genesis 26:8. In the first two incidents Abraham models four behaviors. He trusts man rather than God to meet his needs. He fears man more than he fears God. He deceives man by lying to protect himself. And, finally he profits from his lie even though he gets caught and has to deal with the circumstances. In the third passage we find his son, Isaac, imitating Abraham’s sin.
In our contemporary world psychology has observed that those who come from homes in which the father abused his wife, the son is likely to follow the example. This pattern is frequently true with other selfish and unacceptable sinful behaviors.
In the lives of Isaac and Rebecca (Genesis 27) we observe three other selfish and unacceptable practices that have a devastating impact on their family. Each practiced favoritism, Isaac towards Esau because this son was a man’s man. Rebecca’s favoritism was towards Jacob because he had a more gentle spirit and perhaps she felt she needed to support him since her husband obviously favored Esau. In addition, Rebecca models scheming, lying and disloyalty as she coaches Jacob through cunning his father into giving him the family blessing. In the process she also modeled not trusting God who already foretold that Jacob would have the blessing.
Over the next fourteen years Jacob drew upon the lessons he learned from his mother and became very adept at scheming and lying as well. See Genesis 29-33.
Eli, the high priest, failed in four ways as the high priest and as a father. He failed to disciple his sons resulting in their becoming profligates desecrating the house of God with their immoral behavior. Eli failed at moral and spiritual training. He also failed to exercise professional discipline of his sons as the high priest. And, finally, he failed to model public discipline of his sons. The result was the judgment of God on both Eli and his sons. (See I Samuel 2, 3-4:22).
One other example is worth our consideration. King David, the man of whom God complemented with this affirmation, “…a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22), was an abject failure as a father. He failed to discipline his sons (I Kings 1:5-6). He failed to acknowledge the brutal rape by Ammon, his son, of Tamar his half sister. He failed to discipline Absalom, his son, for capital murder. And finally, he failed to model a moral life as seen in his selfish taking of another’s wife and then having her husband murdered.
Well, you get the picture. Selfish parents will raise selfish children. Paul notes that God records all these examples for our instruction. As we read these God desires to arrest our attention and cause us to ask the question, “What is a parent to do?”
God provides directions for us in his word. Here I am not going to spend much time addressing the fact that God calls us to live exemplary lives before our children since both Old and New Testaments repeatedly call us to righteous living. Instead I would turn our attention to some practical steps for biblical discipline recognizing that these will send dissident messages to our child if we are not walking a selfless life of godliness.
While there is much to be said, I will limit my comments here to three dimensions of child rearing.
First is the responsibility to engage in teaching our children. Perhaps the most definitive passage is Deuteronomy chapter 6. This passage is pedagogically rich. It starts with the teacher’s knowledge and then moves to the teachers methodology.
Moses begins with knowing God, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” As parents we need to know God if we are going to raise children who deny ungodliness and selfish desires. The second point for Moses is the priority of life. He says, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” No room to be a selfish parent if this is my priority and no room for children to grow up selfish men and women if this is their priority. Moses then reminds us to keep this goal before us when he writes, “And these words that I command you today, shall be on your heart.”
There are four steps in the methodology. The first is the instruction to engage in formal teaching. “You shall teach the diligently to your children”, says Moses. The original for dilligently here is the word for recite. The implication is that we must be focused. A great way to do this is the use of the catechism.
The second step is informal talking. The picture is that of taking advantage of everyday life to reinforce what has been formally taught.
The third step is to use symbolism as reminders of the truth that you are teaching. In the cultural setting Moses says to use methods fitting the culture. Today this could be a wrist band, a purity ring or a T-shirt.
The fourth step, write them on the doorpost, is the use of art that depicts truth. When I was in college the founder’s pithy statements of truth were burned into 1 X 4”s and hung over the blackboards. I remember some of those sayings more than 50 years later. As you review these it should be evident that children’s differing learning styles are covered here.
The second dimension of child rearing that we want to highlight here is the necessity of discipline. The book of Proverbs emphasizes rod and reproof. The rod refers to corporal discipline. The picture that the Old Testament reader would get from the word used here is that of a loving and caring shepherd. It is the same word that is used for a shepherd’s crook. A shepherd’s crook was not used to beat the sheep by a loving and caring shepherd. It was a tool used to protect the sheep and keep the sheep safe. If the sheep was being rebellious, the shepherd would hook him and pull him back in line or smack him enough to get his attention to get back in line. So, the rod is useful when a child is being rebellious. The rod is not to be thought of as the only or even the most frequent means of discipline. It is best used to deal with rebellious spirit. The other tool is reproof. This refers to a stern dressing down. My wife was an expert with this tool. She would squat down grasping the child’s shoulders and say, “Look at my eyes”. She would then proceed to give a stern warning or intense lesson.
The third dimension of child rearing for this article is this. Child rearing should take place in the context of a well functioning marriage. This is the ideal and I know that not everyone reading this is living in an ideal marriage. Nonetheless, this is the best context. What this tells us is that we should be prayerfully focused upon building a good marriage. If we are obedient to God in this regard, then as a consequence we provide the best environment for raising our children. So, if you are living in a troubled marriage, please seek biblically oriented assistance. Even if you are married to an unbeliever, seek assistance to discern how you can improve that relationship and perhaps be the vehicle through whom your mate is drawn to Christ. If you are the one contributing to the dysfunction, repent and seek your mate’s forgiveness.
This essay is should not be thought of as all I need to know to conduct good parenting. But, it is a great starting place.
James Hill Circle