Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
Bob Burridge ©2011
Nomology: Lesson 8d – Biblical Parenting
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000, 2011
Westminster Confession of Faith 24
II. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness.
1. Having Children: the increase of mankind and of the church
2. The duties of biblical parenting
the increase of mankind and of the church
One of the first commands given to the first human couple was that they should be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). The very next thing God told the first parents was that they should subdue the earth and rule over the creatures in it. It is clear that God was pleased for people to produce children for the purpose of continuing the display of his glory and dominion over the world he made.
The covenant people of Israel and the New Testament church were both assured that by their children they would be blessed and that their offspring were recipients of the promise made in the divine covenant (Acts 2:39 compared with Isaiah 44:3).
Psalm 127:3-5, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They shall not be ashamed, When they speak with their enemies in the gate.”
There are those in our world today who discourage the birth of children. This shift in family values has encouraged abortions and limited conception primarily among those who have the means, knowledge, and desire to take advantage of these options.
The issue of family size is often driven by financial constraints and a desire to cut down the personal limitations a family brings. People want more material things, and more free time. Families in God’s covenant community are also sometimes influenced by these worldly values at the expense of raising godly children to influence the world by representing the glory of God.
Marriage is the God ordered place for children to be conceived and raised. The joint duties of fathers and mothers are best carried out when both are present and active in the home. The most advantaged child is not the one raised in a home with fewer children and more material things for each one. It is the one raised in a home committed to the principles given in Scripture for husbands and wives fulfilling their duties as godly parents.
The Christian community has a duty to oppose abortion, which is nothing less than murder. We ought to help those faced with unwanted pregnancies to know the joy of bringing a child into the world and raising him in a Christian environment. The help of other believers is crucial too. It is best accomplished within the community of the local church, which is God’s established agency for helping the needy. Where there is only one parent, the other members of the church need to help him or her in meeting the children’s needs.
The duties of biblical parenting
Parenting is a great responsibility and challenge. Some parents don’t seem to grasp the awesome job they’ve been given. Some become overly demanding and cruel to their children. Others neglect the godly discipline of their children and never teach them right from wrong. Some fail to make sure that their children know the Bible and are involved in the church. God’s word teaches us how God calls parents and children to relate with one another in the home.
In Colossians 3:20 the Apostle explained the duties of children toward their parents.
“Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.”
This is a commandment with a purpose and a promise. The reason children should obey and honor their parents is that it is a way to please the Lord. The promise is that children who follow this principle will be greatly blessed in this life. The 5th Commandment says in Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
The next verse in Colossians 3 is a word of instruction to the Fathers:
Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.”
Similarly in Ephesians 6:4 Paul wrote, “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
This warning is mainly directed to fathers. Colossians 3:18-19 said that God made them to be the heads of the home. Fathers are held responsible for the atmosphere in which the whole family lives. They should set the home policies and the boundaries, not so that they get their way, but so that God’s ways are honored and loved in the home. Therefore he is to make sure that all in the home can reach their full joy and potential in the Lord.
Ephesians 5:23 says that he must oversee his home with the same love and unselfish care that Christ shows as he oversees the church as its Good Shepherd. Men who are tyrants in the home, or who become self-serving masters, defy God’s law. They bring judgment upon themselves and deeply hurt their families. As loving leaders who should be concerned for those they lead, Fathers must responsibly represent God’s tender love, care, and provision toward those for whom he is held accountable. He is responsible for the child’s care, but he’s foolish if he thinks he can do it best all by himself.
God showed Adam that he was incomplete by himself. He needed a helper, a counter-part. Eve was made to be that helper. Using the same terminology the Psalms tell us that the Lord is our helper.
Both husbands and wives struggle with the effects of their fallen condition. They each need to appreciate what the other faces.
In Genesis 3 God told Adam that as a result of the fall men would be assigned to struggle in hard labor for the provisions their families need. There would be thorns and thistles which they would see as things that make their work very difficult and demanding. In the same curse, Genesis 3:16 explains that the woman’s difficulty will be in child-bearing, which includes child-raising. Also, she will have difficulty in being in rightful subjection to her always imperfect husband. This is never an easy duty.
This mutual need for help is why wise fathers should encourage the mothers to contribute their special skills in the home. Therefore the wives and mothers are not excluded from the demands of Colossians 3:21. Fathers and mothers should work together to raise their children without exasperating them.
Mothers are often the most regular influence on their children by their daily care while the father is engaged in his duties of providing for the family’s material needs.
In Titus 2:4-5 there is encouragement to the wives about their duties. The older women in the church were to help the younger ones by encouraging them to, “love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands … ”
Notice the qualities these mothers in the home are to have …
1. They are to love their husbands. (Literally it says they are to be “husband lovers”)
2. They are to love their children.(Literally it says they are to be “child lovers”)
3. They are to be sensible and pure, as examples of godliness.
4. They are to be workers at home.
5. They are to be kind
6. They are to be subject to their own husbands
The 4th quality is specially interesting in our age: they are to be workers at home. Modern social and economic pressures place contrary demands on women. They find it harder to remain at home as God’s word commands. But their God-given duties remain. They are told by God to be workers at home. Similarly in 1 Timothy 5:14 God’s word says, “… I want younger women to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.”
This cannot be limited to some cultural issue for one era or another. It is the way the Creator designed the home to operate. Its how he displays his own nature, and ensures a godly society.
In Proverbs 31 the ideal wife is very productive and creative. She makes and sells clothing, supplies belts to traders (:24). She considers a field, buys it, plants it (:16), but never does she neglect her own home duties while she does this work. She makes sure her family is well clothed, fed, and the children raised well. If mothers take on outside jobs and duties they must be very creative and diligent so that they can keep up their first duty to the home and family.
The busy mother described in Proverbs 31, is still the one her children praise and honor (:28). The children generally remember their mothers as the ones who fed them, dressed them, picked up after them and taught them.
Just as the church is more visible to the world than Christ, her Head, mothers are often more visible to the children than the husband who is the head of the home. It ought not be that the headship of the father is invisible. The fact is however that his policies for the home are dispensed most of the time through the mother. This cooperation is the essence of biblical parenting.
Parents are warned not to exasperate their children. The word Paul uses for “exasperate” is erethitzo (ερεθιζω). It means to provoke or irritate someone, or to embitter them. In Ephesians 6:4 he uses a different but similar word parorgitzo (παροργιζω) to warn us not to provoke our children. Parents, in their discipline and raising of their children, need to be careful so that they don’t discourage them, or provoke them to bitterness.
Children easily become exasperated by poor parenting. This can show itself in the errors of: cruelty, permissiveness and inconsistency.
Cruelty is exasperating to children. This is when parental authority is abused. It is a perversion of discipline. Some see every disobedience as an open challenge to their authority. Consequently they make overly rigid rules or flaunt their authority becoming tyrants instead of caring parents. They make inappropriate punishments with big penalties for minor infractions. They often fail to listen to the child or fail to understand what they are struggling with instead of helping them find better ways to deal with their problems. In their own self-centered insecurity, they think that anything less than a quick harsh punishment shows weakness.
This attitude fails to understand the fallen human nature as God describes it in his word. Children, like adults, are only sinners saved by grace. The harsh approach tries to force children to behave a certain way by coercion. It fails to teach them the real importance of godly behavior and attitudes. They learn to avoid punishments, but not to live to please God in all things. They don’t learn how sad it is to offend those who love us so.
Children need our help. This certainly includes correction and appropriate punishments. But they also need our patience and tenderness by word and example, even as we correct them.
We need to take special caution in the use of physical punishments. The Book of Proverbs shows that God approves this type of correction:
13:24, “He who spares his rod, hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”
29:15, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.”
The issue in these and similar verses is the importance of correcting the child. The use of the rod is not the focus, and is not singled out as the only recommended means. It is mentioned in the sense that it was a common way of inflicting punishment and should not be neglected. Parents should be deeply concerned that their child will learn to avoid behavior that is wrong and harmful to him.
Punishments should never harm the child physically. The use of physical punishment should never be administered in an atmosphere of frustration or anger by the parent. It would be a very poor lesson if the child learned it as a proper response to being personally upset.
In the full context of Scripture the rod is not presented as our main parenting tool. In fact, in most situations other forms of punishment are far better for teaching the principles that children need to learn.
Dr. Hendriksen wisely points out, “Though the rod of correction may at times be necessary, it must be used with discretion, since wise reproof is generally better than a hundred stripes.”
God himself teaches us more by his mercy and instruction than by direct punishments. The rod is not a cure all. It is a last resort when diligent attempts to teach and encourage fail, when other forms of punishment have been ineffective to the point where the offense is so great and bold, that the child’s safety, physically and morally, requires it.
If we are successful with our instruction and encouragement and plan appropriate punishments which we consistently carry out we may never need to use corporal punishment at all.
Sometimes parents become cruel because of a desperate fear of personal failure. They lash out at the child out of personal frustration or embarrassment. But Proverbs shows that even a properly raised children may rebel.
13:1 a wise son accepts his father’s discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
30:11 There is a kind of man who curses his father and does not bless his mother.
19:26 He who assaults his father and drives his mother away is a shameful and disgraceful son.
There are examples in the Bible where godly parents grieve over rebellious children. There is no evidence given in those cases that the parents had failed to be good parents. There are no perfect parents. It is vain and foolish to imagine you can be one. A parent is at fault only if he has not prayerfully tried to discipline biblically.
The child who is raised well, bears his own blame. There are no perfect ways for a parent to discipline that will remove the fallen nature of a child. Only our perfect Savior could accomplish that and apply it to us by grace.
Cruelty comes in many forms. It may be harmful or harsh words, physical abuse, or bringing emotional stresses and pressures upon the child.
Sometimes parents are cruel because they expect too much too soon. Even our God tells us that it takes time to mature as Christians. So we should be like our Heavenly Father’s example and be longsuffering as we follow and teach his ways.
Cruelty can be exasperating to a child, and provoke him to hatred instead of stimulating him to love and good works. Hebrews 10:24 is a good guide for parenting as well as for all believers, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds”
Permissiveness is another sure way to exasperate your children. This happens when parents neglect the duties God gives them in his word about teaching their children. Permissive parents either don’t care enough to discipline, or are afraid that correction and discipline will be unpleasant for their children. It may be an over reaction when, in trying to avoid cruelty, parents fail to find the proper middle ground.
Parents might be mislead by so called professional experts who are not led or fed by God’s word. Theories that come from our fallen hearts often say that discipline harms a child’s spirit, or that the child won’t like the parents if they punish them.
Those fears are plainly untrue. They are contrary to God’s word and real human experience. They come from the parent’s own insecurities and fears, not from informed concern for the child. Permissiveness confuses that child about what is right and wrong.
The Bible lays aside those objections.
Hebrews 12:11, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
Punishment isn’t supposed to be pleasant. That’s the whole point. It is to help the child learn that some things are not good for them. Punishments help the very young person discover and remember that there are limits to what he should do. When he doesn’t yet know and understand greater dangers, the more immediate threat of punishment may keep him safe until he matures more.
God assures us that, if given in love and kindness, correction proves our love to the child. That same section of Hebrews explains that godly discipline is evidence of legitimate sonship and love.
Hebrews 12:8, “if you are without discipline … you are illegitimate…”
The implication is that if you are disciplined, you are a legitimate child, loved by your parents.
Puritan author John Owen said, “there are too many sons that are never chastised by their fathers; which commonly ends in their ruin.” Proverbs 19:18 warns, “Discipline your son while there is hope.” Proverbs 29:17 says, “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul.”
Both extremes of Cruelty and Permissiveness can be exasperating.
Inconsistency can also be exasperating. Too many rules which can’t be reasonably and consistently enforced are confusing.
A few guidelines might help:
- Unclear or unannounced rules frustrate a child. Don’t punish them for things you haven’t clearly taught are wrong.
- When rules are applied inconsistently it will confuse them. Things shouldn’t one day deserve punishment and the next day be overlooked. Children of different ages often have different privileges and responsibilities. But other than such obvious distinctions one child shouldn’t be punished for things the others are allowed to do.
- Don’t make rules you don’t intend to enforce.
- The inability of parents to agree and support one another creates uncertainty in the child.
- When parents do the very things for which they discipline their children, a confusing message is sent, a double standard is taught. Children grow up thinking that good is only a relative concept.
To avoid frustrating themselves, and confusing the child, parents should set clear, fair limits, and be consistent in application and example. Teach the little ones the ways of God. When you must chastise them do it with love, tenderly, consistently, and always without cruelty.
In this same section of Colossians Paul explains what happens when fathers exasperate their children: they become disheartened
Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart.”
In Ephesians 6:4 he says that this provoking of the child can lead to anger.
The word translated as “lose heart” is athumeo (αθυμεω), which means they become discouraged. Exasperating your children is more likely to turn them to anger, than to the Lord.
The result of cruelty, permissiveness, or inconsistency in raising our children has tragic consequences for their future lives. A truly loving and godly parent will carefully study and pray about God’s instructions. He will order the home God’s way and love his children enough not to exasperate them.
The Positive Side
There is the negative part of this warning: Godly parents sin against the Lord if they exasperate or discourage their children. But the positive side shows what we ought to do: Parents should guide their children and encourage them. Ephesians 6:4 ends with these words, “… but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
The word translated as “discipline” literally means: training, upbringing or instruction. It was used at that time for how instructors would school children and train them in their studies. It includes the use of authoritative correction to keep the one being trained on the right path.
Preventive discipline eliminates the need for negative correction by training and guiding children with God’s word and by setting a good example. Many times, the negative correction becomes necessary because positive direction has been neglected. We need to plan, and make sure we show them the right way, rather than to have to deal with the wrong ways that emerge when parents neglect their duty.
Biblical discipline points to a clear positive goal. It helps children learn the right way to get there, and it encourages them when they are obedient and do well. Pioneer missionary William Carey wrote, “if a little of the effort used to teach the children not to be naughty were devoted to training them to be gentlemen and ladies, parents would come nearer to fulfilling (the Apostle’s lesson).”
Discipline without love is cruelty, but love without fair and godly discipline is a fraud.
The second word of instruction here “Instruction”. The kind of instruction implied here is more direct and personal than just the giving of information. The Greek word is nouthesia (νουθεσια) from which we get the term “Nouthetic”. Biblical counseling that encourages right ways is called Nouthetic Counseling. It means we are willing to confront problems head on in love, encouraging, and advising right attitudes and behaviors to replace the wrong ones.
Biblical nurture provides good activities and builds good habits to crowd out the bad ones. With good teaching and examples to follow, there will be less rebellion and disobedience. F. F. Bruce writes, “There must be either discipline and control or invertebacy and chaos, either Abraham’s seeds or Eli’s weeds …”
Proverbs 22:6 is often misapplied. It says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
This verse is not a guarantee that a child trained well will always grow up obediently. It means that those good lessons from his youth will not depart from the child. He will not be able to escape their testimony. Even if he rebels, your faithful and well taught lessons will haunt him.
Godly parents must encourage their children and help them grow up to be holy and happy.
Parents ought to show a consistent and united effort to encourage their children in godliness. Fathers and mothers need to first of all be maturing in Christ themselves. If children grow up seeing bickering, jealousy, and neglect of duty at home, they will miss out on the lesson God builds into the structure of the family.
They need to learn from their fathers how Christ unselfishly loves and cares for his church. They need to learn from their mothers how the church uses its talents in humble kingdom service. They need to learn from good parenting how God tenderly loves and comforts us even when we have done something wrong and disappointing. Together those in the family help one another grow to be more holy and happy.
Parents by watching their children grow are reminded about how amazing it is to learn new things that please God and how exciting it is to grow into maturity. They are reminded through the eyes of their growing children to enjoy the discovery of the things our Heavenly Father has provided for us each day.
Our discipline shouldn’t be cruel, neglected, or inconsistent. Our Children shouldn’t be discouraged as they grow into adults. It should be instructive and encouraging so that all are growing together making the quest for sanctification a family adventure.
Parents should let their children know that they are struggling sinners too, saved by grace, and working to promote God’s glory as he forgives them and as he works in them to make them grow.
Unlike the attitude of fallen hearts, children should not be seen as things to control so they don’t get in the way of our plans. Children also need to understand that parents are not obstacles in their freedom, but fellow Christians doing their job as best they can, even if it is sometimes imperfect.
In the Christian home, we all need to pray for one another, study, and talk together about God’s word. We need to worship together as a family, and as part of the body of Christ in the local church family. We need to encourage each other too, as we strive to be dying daily to sin and coming alive more and more toward godliness.
This is the blessing which God has created for us, a blessing called “family’. It is our privilege as believers to restore its place in God’s world for his glory.
Note: The Bible quotations in this syllabus are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.