The focus of this article will be the relationship between parents and their children in a Christian family. The changing tide of popular opinion about parenting threatens to engulf us all and should be of concern to all who care for the spiritual welfare of a rising generation.
The Bible advocates that love and righteousness should overflow into family life. The family is not intended to be a democracy with everyone having an equal say. The father is the head; he leads in love for the good of his wife and children. His wife submits to that headship, and his children submit to that rule by learning to obey their parents.
This highlights a vital principle: parental interactions will influence the subsequent behavior of their children. If a husband is cruel or his wife is contentious, their children may follow these examples. Abraham’s deceit was duplicated by Isaac; Rebekah’s guile was perpetuated by Jacob.
And yet, puzzling paradoxes are witnessed in family life. There are believing parents who have done their best to bring up their family in the ways of the Lord. And yet, the outcome has been sadness and grief as their offspring have chosen a different pathway. Even in the same family, great divergences can be seen: Joseph was a good and faithful son while his brothers were consumed with jealousy and malice.
Some home environments may be far from ideal; perhaps the parents are unbelieving or negligent about caring for their children. But, through God’s grace alone, the outcome has been that from such homes has arisen a young man or woman who comes to faith in Christ and proves to be godly in all their ways. It seems that Timothy’s father was not a believer, but his mother and grandmother made the difference as far as the child’s Scripture knowledge and spiritual development were concerned (Act 16:1; 2Ti 1:5; 3:15).
Whatever the environment in which we find ourselves, we need the Lord to guide us each step of the way. We thank Him for the blessings and trust Him in the difficulties, walking by faith and not by sight. Scripture abounds in examples of these apparent anomalies in family life: the young King Josiah had an evil father, Amon, but he turned out to be a godly son. And even though Josiah was a godly father, he had an evil son, Jehoahaz (2Ki 21-23).
Honor Your Father and Mother
This original commandment has not been revoked (Exo 20:12; Eph 6:1-2). It means that parents are to be respected and obeyed. This is right before the Lord. Ideally, obedience should be wholehearted and cheerful. But, even should compliance be halfhearted or begrudged, the parent is still grateful that the messy room has been tidied or the school homework has been completed. Disobedience to parents is one of the signs marking “the last days” (2Ti 3:1-2).
Many of us of an older generation rightly feared our father’s wrath whenever we had been knowingly disobedient. One trembled when mother said, “Wait till your father gets home and I tell him what you have done!” Discipline in former days was sharp and painful. Nowadays there is a climate of opinion that says that mistakes should not be identified or corrected lest the child’s feelings be upset. It is a child’s understanding, not its feelings, that needs to be instructed and molded. Modern educationalists have strayed far from scriptural wisdom and sanctified common sense.
Parents have the responsibility to teach and guide their children. The daily “family altar” is a vital component of Christian home life, when parents gather with their children to read the Scriptures and pray. One wonders, is it still practiced? It should be at the heart of a family along with unconditional love and encouragement. There are always challenges, crises and disappointments in home life, but no child should ever be unloved or unappreciated. Rules of the home should be few, but fair and simple. Children should learn to listen and obey, to be kind and share, to be polite and thankful, and to help and cooperate.
There is a critical period of childhood that, once lost, can never be recovered. Children need time with their parents – time to play and have fun, time to laugh and time to cry, time to explain and time to complain, and time to listen and learn. In later life, busy parents may try to make up for having spent so little time with their children in earlier years. They shower their teenagers with money and gifts – the latest iPad or even a new vehicle – to gain their love, but it may be too late.
When parents grow old and become physically or mentally frail, the burden of care is reversed. Whatever arrangements are made, children need to assist and support them. This is a worthy manifestation of the love of Christ.
“But what if …?”
What if parents are harsh and cruel? What if they are physically or emotionally abusive? There are no easy answers to such dilemmas, but violence cannot be tolerated. There may come a fork in the road where it is impossible to continue interacting with parents at close quarters, particularly if there is a risk to life or limb, or a real danger of mental breakdown. This does not preclude the challenge of trying, with God’s help, to go on loving them and praying for them.
The Perfect Father and Son
Let us end on a positive note! There is a general sense in which God is the Father of all His creation. We all are His children, and this is seen in His providential care of the millions upon earth (Mat 5:45). However, in a more specific sense, we are born in sin and become part of His family only when we are born again through faith in Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God who was in all things submissive to His Father’s will. In childhood, He was respectful of His earthly mother, Mary, and boyhood guardian, Joseph. This was maintained, even when He had to remind them that there was a higher calling in His life: “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luk 2:49). His pathway of following His heavenly Father’s will was one of suffering and rejection. He was aware that it would lead to the death of the cross, and yet, “he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). In His agony upon that cross, He made provision for His widowed mother. What love!