By: Scott O'Malley
May 7th, 2021
In parts one and two of our series we discussed the importance of dependence on God and how the Scriptures thoroughly equip parents for the task of raising their children. In part three we will discuss an additional biblical foundation: parents must focus on faithfulness to God and not the behavior of our children.
One of the big challenges all parents face is when their children are not behaving in ways they want them to behave. Some children repeatedly choose to get out of bed once they have been tucked in for the night. Teenagers complain or argue when asked to complete a task, or simply refuse to come home at the assigned curfew.
In these types of situations, struggling parents often begin a “try this” philosophy and it quickly leads them away from thinking biblically. In those challenging moments of dealing with a misbehaving child, many parents become desperate to stop the bad behavior at all costs. “So in moments of discipline we get loaded for bear; we get cranked up emotionally and think if we are stern enough and loud enough, and make threats that are big enough, we will win, and our children will instantly change” (Paul Tripp, Parenting pg. 85). Not only do these attempts to ratchet up the consequences not work, they actually make things worse. While it is understandable for parents to want to stop an undesired behavior, God has a higher calling for parents.
Foundation #3 - Focus on Faithfulness
In Psalm 78:1 it says, “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” The aim of this call to attention is for parents to tell of the glorious deeds of the Lord to the next generation (Psalm 78:4). When I was first hired at Twelve Stones back in 2007, it was a very long transition from living in Indianapolis to moving to the country because the housing market tanked and we couldn’t sell our house for 23 months. As a result I had lengthy commutes each night for almost two years. As we journeyed through this trial, my wife and I pointed out “Twelve Stones moments.” These were special moments where God answered our prayers or provided in some special way. We regularly brought these moments up to our children to not only praise God, but also help them to see God had not abandoned us. One example of a Twelve Stones moment was when we were just about out of money, a church gave us $6000 as a gift to help us through our ordeal.
In addition to proclaiming the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might, parents are to teach their children the law of God (Psalm 78:5), encourage them to set their hope in God, not to forget the works of God, and to obey God’s commands (Psalm 78:7). As we were waiting on God to sell our home, we continually challenged ourselves and our children to trust God and set our hope in Him, not our house selling. Those Twelve Stones moments were little reminders to us that God was watching over us. The greatest example of God watching over us came when the house we moved into didn’t work out and we needed a temporary place to stay. This major inconvenience was the thing God used to direct us to a doctor in Hope, Indiana. This doctor was the person who discovered what was wrong with our two-month-old daughter Grace’s heart. She had open heart surgery shortly thereafter and is perfectly healthy today. While we certainly struggled through our trial, as a family we sought to put our hope in God and continually look to Him throughout. Back to Psalm 78, the psalmist then contrasts this call to faithfulness to what previous generations had done. In Psalm 78:8 we read, “and they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”
While it is certainly true that parents should desire children to obey, faithfulness to God is our highest calling as parents. We see this same emphasis on faithfulness for parents in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 which says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
While it is certainly true that parents should desire children to obey, faithfulness to God is our highest calling as parents.
Another reason to stay focused on faithfulness to God and not the child’s behavior is because we will not have an accurate picture of the quality of our parenting. Some parents are doing a poor job but their children are well-behaved so it leads to a false sense of assurance. Other parents are being faithful to God but their children are responding poorly. Your child’s response is not the litmus test of your parenting. Rather than gauging our success by our child’s behavior, we must build on the foundation of Scripture by focusing on being faithful to God as described in the Bible.
Another reason to stay focused on faithfulness to God and not the child’s behavior is because we will not have an accurate picture of the quality of our parenting.
At this point you may be asking, “What tasks should I focus on? What is required by God to be faithful as a parent?” Thankfully, God has not left us without an answer. In Ephesians 6:4 we have the most amazingly succinct description of faithful parenting when the Apostle Paul writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” While English translators typically use the word father, one Bible scholar writes, “The word technically refers to male parents, but was also used of parents in general. Since Paul had been speaking to both parents (vv. 1-3) he probably had both in mind here” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible ESV pg. 1767). In other words, for moms and dads to be faithful to God, they must love their kids enough to discipline and instruct them without exasperating them.
When parents seek to be faithful to God by consistently disciplining their children and instructing them in the ways of God, they can have confidence God is pleased, regardless of the child’s behavior. Then, passages like Galatians 6:9-10 are a comfort and encouragement to hang in their when it is hard. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.”
Join me next week as we look in more detail at how to discipline and instruct our children without exasperation. For now it is important to solidify in our minds that our highest priority is faithfulness to God, not simply fixing or controlling the behavior of our children. Let me conclude with a few questions for you to reflect upon.
Questions for Reflection
1. When my children misbehave, am I more concerned with being faithful to God or shutting down the unwanted behavior?
2. As I think about the challenge from Deuteronomy 6:6-7 to diligently teach my children throughout the day, how am I doing?
3. If faithfulness to God is supposed to be my highest priority in parenting, what is the most frequent rival that I need to repent of before God and my children?