Watch the video or read the lesson text … or both.
Isaiah 44:24 Psalm 127:3 Psalm 78:5-8 Deuteronomy 6:7 Deuteronomy 31:10-13 Proverbs 13:24 Proverbs 22:6 Judges 17:6 Deuteronomy 12:8 2 Corinthians 12:14 Ephesians 6:4 Leviticus 19:18 Matthew 22:39
We are stewards over our children. As we have discussed in prior lessons, we first look to whether or not we create, and if we do not, then we look at what our response or duty and responsibility should be. What does God expect with regards to our children?
In Isaiah 44:24, God very plainly tells us that children He forms our children. He also tells us in Psalm 127:3 that our children are a gift from God. Since we did not create our children and they are both made by God and given to us by God, this makes us stewards of our children. As stewards, we owe certain duties and responsibilities back to God with respect to our children.
Our first instruction relating to our children is to teach them diligently. We teach our children about God, to respect God and to obey God. We teach our children the character and expectations of God. We teach our children the commandments God gave us in Scripture. Psalm 78:5-8, Deuteronomy 6:7, 31:10-13.
Next, we are called to correct and discipline our children. Proverbs 13:24, 19:18. Discipline is a funny thing. While I believe in spanking, it’s not something that gets better with more spankings. There is a line between abuse and discipline. Children are made better by applying consistent discipline. What we do in consistency lets our children know that we love them. Consistent discipline yields long-lasting results.
Part of discipline is leading by example and teaching children right and wrong. Again, there is a line between abuse and discipline – we can also say that there is a difference between humiliation and constructive leadership. I can remember a boss completely dressing me down over a very simple oversight. Such actions are not constructive and can backfire. For our children who are a captive audience, humiliation can damage them emotionally. Years later, I was in a supervisory role. A new trainee made the same mistake I did years earlier when I was just a trainee. I went to the trainee and simply said that I could make her feel like an ant in a sidewalk crack, but I preferred that she just fix it. The trainee expressed a lot of gratitude and promised to not make the same mistake again.
Whether discipline is verbal or corrective action, it is possible for parents to become abusive.
Proverbs 22:6 also instructs us to train our children in the way they should go. This I read to mean not just teaching about the things of God but also intentional training for future life as a member of society. This includes positive character attributes, such as integrity, diligence, strong work ethic, and punctuality. A friend of mine once asked why I enrolled my children in a Christian school and not public school. He said our children should be exposed to all kinds of ideas and be allowed to choose for themselves what they want to believe.
This idea has become very pervasive in our society, but it is quite wrong. Our children are not equipped to evaluate worldviews and outcomes that can take years to unfold. [This, by the way, is an argument made in a clip played in the film, No Safe Spaces, by a university administrator in reprimanding a professor for allowing certain viewpoints into the classroom – 18 year olds are not equipped to evaluate viewpoints the university did not value. Somehow young children can evaluate potentially harmful viewpoints, but an 18 year old should not be exposed to certain viewpoints?] Our children are not equipped to determine potential consequences and cannot always handle the consequences of significant decisions. More than this, in the Scriptures we just reviewed, God gives us a definite obligation to teach our children.
In Deuteronomy 12:8 and Judges 17:6, the people did what was right in their own eyes because there was no king. They had no leader. Judges 17:6 gives us a clue as to why everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
We will always have a king. If we do not have leadership in our parents, teachers, government or churches, then the king is ourself. Self reigns as king. It has to be this way for these verses to be accurate. Without a king, self decides what is right or wrong. Left to ourselves, we become very selfish people, and we indulge in anything and everything. Proverbs 14:12
Our culture is beginning to reap the effects of the philosophy my friend held, and it is not constructive or yielding positive results. By not teaching our children, we are not showing love to our children. What might be the effect in our children of inadequate love?
2 Corinthians 12:14 teaches that we are to provide for our children. This sounds like common sense, but so many parents do not provide for their children. An example comes from a conversation I had with a community leader in Southwest Virginia. This person expressed concern that many parents freely spend money on cable television, soda, cigarettes and beer, but then have no money available to pay for school clothes and supplies for their children. Some charitable organizations try to fill this void, but it highlights how children are overlooked. To know that the children come fourth or fifth place or worse in their parents’ lives is a weight they should not have to carry.
It is against Scripture and public policy to engage in child sacrifice. We see these practices in pagan cultures in the Old Testament. Literally, children would be cooked or burned to death in sacrificial rituals to manmade gods and idols. Part of the ritual was loud music and yelling which drowned out the painful screams of the children. However, every time we make something trivial more important than our children, we are sacrificing them. Can we really justify sacrificing our children’s futures for more cigarettes, beer, soda and cable television packages?
Children may like the instruction in Ephesians 6:4 – that fathers are not to provoke their children to anger. What does this mean? How can we provoke our children to anger? As we discussed in the paragraphs above, not providing for our children provokes them to anger. How would you feel if your parent held back from you or put something less important ahead of you?
We can also provoke our children to anger is by setting the wrong example, doing something wrong ourselves, not showing up at events, not playing with them, not teaching them what they need to learn, being absent, and being drunk or high. These are all ways parents can provoke their children to anger. The word “investment” is a good summary of a parent’s role in the lives of their children. As parents, we are to be invested in our children and to invest ourselves into our children.
We can also provoke our children to anger when we fail to lead by example. “Do as I say, not as I do” is an attitude that creates significant emotional conflict in our children. As they grow up, they will come to see through their parents and reject any influence their parents may eventually want to have in their lives.
When my oldest child was in preschool, an issue I no longer remember brought me to the classroom to try and resolve it with the teacher. We resolved it favorably and quickly. As I left the classroom, I made an off-hand comment, “I’m just doing what any parent would do.” I will never forget the teacher’s reply. “No you’re not.” The teacher’s response threw me! As I pressed more, the teacher explained that the vast majority of their parents drop their children off through car-line and never get out of their cars.
My oldest child is now a 2020 high school graduate, and that preschool teacher’s comment stuck with me all these years. Is it ok to not be curious at all about what is happening with our children at school? Is this why more children are committing suicide from school bullying? Is this why there is a rise in sex abuse cases at school? If we are unaware and uninvolved when it comes to our children’s education, it enables all kinds of things to happen that have the potential to damage our children for years to come.
This attitude of uninvolvement also explains my friend’s comment that we should allow our children to be exposed to many different ideas and let them choose for themselves what is right. Never mind that I myself as a mature adult have great difficulty discerning what is true when I browse social media, listen to government messages, and try to make sense of media. If we can’t know what is true, how can we expect our children to make sense of it all?
It’s an attitude that doesn’t care what our children are exposed to and is uninvolved at school. We leave our children to raise themselves and pick their way through complex social structures on their own. Many parents have abdicated personal responsibility, and the vacuum left behind has not necessarily been filled with positive things.
While not specifically discussed in Scripture, we are also responsible for guarding our children from harmful things. California State University published information on the effects of television on children. Here are some statistics from the study they published:
• 99% of households possess at least one television • At least 2 televisions in the average U.S. household • 66% of U.S. homes have three or more televisions • The television is on 6 hours, 47 minutes per day on average in U.S. homes • 66% of Americans regularly watch television while eating dinner • 49% of Americans say they watch too much television • 4,000 studies have examined television's effects on children • On average, parents spend 3.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children • On average, children spend 1,680 minutes per week watching television [If this statistic were updated to include social media, internet surfing, etc., the number would be far higher] • 70% of day care centers use television during a typical day • 73% of parents would like to limit their children's television time • 54% of 4-6 year-olds, when asked to choose between watching television and spending time with their fathers, preferred television • 900 hours per year is the amount of time the average American youth spends in school • 1,500 hours per year is the amount of time the average American youth watches television • 8,000 murders are seen on television by the time an average child finishes elementary school – what is that, 10 or 11 years old? • 200,000 violent acts are seen on television by age 18 • 79% of Americans believe television violence contributes to real life mayhem
On a personal note, that last statistic irks me because it indicates we know what the problem is but choose not to address it. In other words, we’ve abdicated parental responsibility to pursue something more important and are unwilling to make the sacrifice to take back parental responsibility.
All these statistics raise an important point. We cannot adequately measure the cumulative effect murders and violence have on our children. One obvious consequence is that our children become desensitized to violence. This is a key reason children are able to become violent. These statistics begin to highlight the effect of abdicating parental responsibility over our children.
As we close, let me say that there is no such thing as tough love. There is love, and there is not love. Yes, love often requires hard decisions, but love needs no adjectives. Tough love is disguised abuse or hatred. In his commentary on the beatitudes in Matthew, William Barclay defined love as desiring the best for the other person. I like to stop there because this definition is complete in itself. For difficult situations, we can read Barclay’s full definition – love is seeking the best for the other person, even when they seek the worst for us.
At times, the best for someone else is extremely hard. It may feel like “tough love,” but it’s just love. Adding adjectives is merely an attempt to hide our true motive. Seeking the best for another person means that we sometimes have to measure what the best looks like. Sometimes it means we have to get our hands dirty. It means we have to be involved and evaluate whether an action is the best or merely enabling poor behavior. Sometimes we have to let the other person feel some pain before we intervene. Other times, we have to impose painful consequences.
Our last point is that our children are neighbors. Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39). We are to follow this commandment when dealing with our children. Love must decide what is the right and best action to take in the moment.