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Friday, July 08, 2016

Biblical Parenting

Look around. You can find all sorts of offerings on parenting. There are studies and methods and perspectives and tools all over the place. There are professionals who know this stuff and there are the practical types who have lived it. Most of it, however, simply comes down to whose word you wish to take. I'm not going to offer you that. I'm simply going to see what, if anything, the Bible says on the subject. You can take it from there.

Starting Point
Let's start at the very beginning. It might seem odd to some, but the Bible is not unclear on its view of children. "Behold," Solomon says, "children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. (Psa 127:3) Now, you will not hear that very often these days where having kids is an option in most marriages and a much disparaged option at that. Even among Christians. That's fine. You might have good reasons not to have kids. Not enough money. Need to pursue a career. Don't really like kids. That's fine. But God's Word says that children are a reward from the Lord. You'll have to decide if He's right or the world is.

Scripture also gives a baseline on parenting. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph 6:4) Fathers are not to provoke their children, but they are also not allowed to surrender their training to their mother, their teacher, or their church. These are certainly good tools that fathers may incorporate (and, clearly, monitor carefully), but it is the father's task to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. As Solomon says elsewhere, "Hear, my son, your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head And ornaments about your neck. (Prov 1:8-9)

Often at the top of the child-training questions is the question of "chastening". How are parents supposed to discipline their children? Are they to take a "hands off" approach, don't stifle their creativity, and let them bloom where they are planted, or is it a more "hands on" approach? I will offer, first, God's approach with us.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Heb 12:5-13)
I had to put that whole passage because 1) it explains without equivocation that God uses "corporal punishment" on the ones He loves, as indicated in the words "discipline" and, most glaringly, "chastise". The KJV, NASB, Douay-Rheims, and Young's Literal Translation all use the word "scourges". The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible prefers "whips". It's understandable that there is this kind of consensus because the Greek word is the word for flogging. It's hard to get around. "Discipline" is to teach or train, but "chasten" or "scourge" or "whip" is to use painful methods of training. This text says God does it, and He does it on the basis of love. Further, if you do not experience this at the hands of God, you should question your connection to Him at all (Heb 12:8).

Now, if you start with "God the Father uses painful methods at times to train His children", you must read the rest of the texts on the subject in light of His example.
He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Prov 13:24)

Discipline1 your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death. (Prov 19:18)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Prov 22:15)

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. (Prov 23:13-14)

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Prov 29:15)
Now, to be clear, we have it on good authority that spanking is bad for your kids. That good authority is another study from the University of Texas at Austin that proves that "spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children." So, there you have it. You decide. The Bible says that the Father "chastises" (scourges, whips) the children He loves. The Bible says that "If you are left without discipline ... you are illegitimate children and not sons." The Bible demands that we love our children, that we teach our children, that we do the very best for our children, but the bulk of Scripture on the subject unavoidably includes corporal punishment as part of the training of children administered by parents that love them. Not abuse. Not torture. Please, feel free to eliminate all of those types of things. But you will need to decide if God Himself and all the instructions in His Word on the subject are wrong, or the UT Austin study is wrong, because the two disagree and both can't be right.

On the subject of teaching, it is important to start with a reminder of the purpose. We aren't looking for "smarter kids" or even "well-educated kids". The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5) One of the most famous verses in the Bible regarding training children is the one from Proverbs. "Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Prov 22:6) It's good to know that proverbially they will not depart from it, but the primary goal in teaching your children is love for the purpose of producing purity, a good conscience, a sincere faith, a "way to go" instead of mere knowledge. In all cases we are to be "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ." (Eph 4:15) Thus, the primary goal of teaching is to point to Christ, the source of all those other outcomes

We already saw that God places the primary responsibility of teaching children in the lap of the father (Eph 6:4). Dads, it is first and foremost your responsibility. Sure, Solomon also told children to "not forsake your mother's teaching." Thus, while fathers bear the primary responsibility, that does not mean that they are the sole source. But what else does the Bible tell us about teaching?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
This text includes two words for the subject here: teaching and training. Thus, the best tool parents have for educating their children is Scripture. It is profitable for presenting truth, for demonstrating error, for showing the path to recovering from error, and for practicing righteousness -- what is right. This single source is so complete that it equips for every good work. Parents, your primary teaching tool must be Scripture.

It may counterintuitive, but our children are not our children. Remember? They are "a heritage from the LORD." It is our responsibility as believers to take good care of that which God has given us to take care of, and that would definitely include our children. For some, that process would begin with a change of mind that says that we're better off without children. For most of us it is the realization that we are called by God to love our children, pursuing what is best for them that would include teaching and training our children by example, by teaching techniques (that may include pain at times), soaking them in the Word and lifting them to Christ. Of course, you may choose to go with your own parenting flavor of the day. "After all, they're my kids. What does God know about raising children?" I've seen how that is working out in our society today. I'd recommend against it.
1 The Hebrew word here is yâsar. It means "to chastise, literally with blows". It is intended as a method of teaching.

1 comment:

Stan said...

Dan T says I'm advocating child abuse, that such claims are monstrous, and that the Bible is wrong if it makes the claims that I've stated, that God Himself would be wrong to do what the Bible seems to say that He does. Dan says that the reason we know that the Bible doesn't mean what it says about corporate punishment and about God chastising His children is because Science. Now, dear reader, I've offered Science in this entry as well as Scripture -- two opposing views. Please carefully weigh the information. Stan is not the Word of the Lord. You should, as I offered above, consider what Scripture says and consider what Science says. Don't consider what Stan says. BUT, if I rightly represented what God's Word intended to convey, please don't tell God He is wrong because Science says so. That would not be to your benefit. If you choose to see something else in Scripture besides what is there at face value and what has always been understood to be there, do so carefully and biblically and NOT because Science is right and the Bible is wrong.