Quite a task!
It’s one thing to bear children; it’s something else to bring them up.
This difficulty is accentuated in Eph. 6:4, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” That conjunction, but, emphasizes this. “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” We must not provoke them to wrath, but on the contrary, bring them up properly.
Nurture and admonition are inseparably connected. Admonition emphasizes the formal instruction, the putting of things in the mind of a child. Nurture emphasizes the element of discipline, correction. We cannot have instruction without discipline and that too, in the Lord or according to the instruction we receive from Christ.
Anyone who takes seriously the task of bringing up children, readily admits that something almost miraculous takes place. In making use of the verb to bring up, Paul pictures before our mind the growth of a tree. It is a wonder to see an acorn germinate and the first tender shoots break out of the ground. The tender tree needs fertilizer; it must be fed, in order that the shoots can become stronger and the roots sink deeper. As it grows larger, restraints have to be placed on the branches so that they grow in the proper direction. Some pruning is required, and soon the small acorn becomes a giant oak tree. So it is with bringing up children. The first tender sense impressions are made upon the child’s mind. More and more is added along with warning and guidance to cause the child to grow in the right direction, Soon the child becomes an adult, making his own decisions and living his own life.
God has made us in a fearful and wonderful way. He has given to us the basic tools whereby we are able to learn things. Take the brain itself. What a marvel! It is estimated that in a lifetime, an average person collects one million billion pieces of information in the brain. That’s a one with fifteen zeros. All this is impressed upon ten billion nerve cells contained in a brain that weighs about three pounds. If man were to try to duplicate the brain, even with solid state circuitry, it would be a computer as large as the Empire State Building.
If we ask the question, how do the different senses make impressions upon the brain, we soon realize there is a great deal of uncertainty as to just how this does take place. There is an element of electrical impulse connecting the nervous system with the brain. But is the brain just a storehouse of electrical impulses? Others say no, there is more than an electrical impulse, there is a chemical relationship between the cells of the body and the brain. Just as electrical shock can disorientate the brain, so also insulin shock or other drugs can influence it. Lately, the study of the molecule itself has opened up another area of interest. By analyzing DNA and RNA it is suggested that each cell in the brain contains all the pieces of information registered through memory. Just as the sex cell contains millions of bits of information called heredity, so each brain cell might contain a million billion pieces of information.
That amazing organ called the brain is not our mind; it is the tool of the mind. Each person has the ability to think, and these thoughts are formulated through the use of the brain. If one has a diseased or injured brain, the thoughts cannot be properly formulated. So a healthy child looks about him and contacts the outside world through his five senses. They impress him and he perceives them; he sorts them out and is able to identify them. All this is stored in the brain and becomes part of his memory which can be recalled later. With this vast storehouse of information he has the knowledge with which he can reason, understand, and form judgments.
If this were all we could say about our children, we still would not have reason to rejoice in “bringing them up.” What we have said so far applies equally to covenant children and to those born outside the sphere of the covenant. Our entire bodies, including our brains have been affected by the physical power of death. Each man still has the faculty of memory and reason, but he uses it in the service of sin. The natural man as he is born into this world is not born in the image of God. Consequently, his natural abilities are brought into subjection of sin and rebellion against God. His nature is depraved; he is an enemy of God and His commandments. Our children are no different in themselves.
God, however, assures us that He has performed His work in our children. He establishes His covenant with believers and their seed, Gen. 17:7, Acts 2:39. In the way of regeneration, John 3:3, our children are distinguished from those of the world. Did not Jesus say, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” Mark 10:14. Paul” describes this work of salvation in Eph. 4:23, 24, “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” When God gives faith to our children, he changes them spiritually. Out of a regenerated heart there flows forth the power to influence the mind and will and direct the faculties of life toward God and His will.
Because of this great work within our children, bringing them up is a wonderful task. We have reason to believe that our children will receive good instruction because God has prepared them for it. This does not mean that our children are not influenced by sin. Their nature is derived from parents, and we parents know all too well that we still sin. Rather, it tells us that the principle direction of their life is also heavenward.
This truth determines for us the content of instruction. We must bring them up in the instruction of the Lord. We must tell them that their life is God-centered. They are called into this world to serve Jesus Christ who is our Lord. All truth is centered in God and therefore the Bible must be the key to all interpretation. The motivation for our daily work, the purpose we have in living, the way we do things, and the, things we do, are all determined by God through Jesus Christ, according to the Scripture. We must have God’s approval upon all we do, or we fail. We must believe we live according to the will of God or life is useless. The only thing that gives real purpose to the children of God is that we may serve God’s cause and kingdom and therefore live to His glory.
A covenant child is most susceptible to this instruction.
There are two reasons for this. First, the ability to learn and receive knowledge is greatest during the days of youth. No one can go back to those days when the mind was keen and the brain like a sponge that could absorb almost anything. So quickly those times are gone forever. How careful we parents have to be in that we don’t judge our children’s ability to learn and study by our own ability. Of course, they can do more than we can: for this reason the Scripture emphasizes, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Secondly, a child has the gift of implicit faith. He will believe anything you say because he trusts you. He doesn’t have a great deal of why’s and wherefore’s. That comes later, as he grows up. As a very small child he simply accepts anything you say. That’s the time we must fill up that mind with the knowledge of God’s Word.
This requires dedication on the part of the parents from the day the child is born. All too often we imagine we can wait and do a better job of bringing them up later on. We like to reason we are so busy now, but probably sometime in the future it will be more convenient. Sometimes we think that little children don’t understand anything anyway, so when they get older we will concentrate on their spiritual instruction. What heartache has come from such reasoning, for either we bring up our children from infancy on, or we will see them depart from the right way. There is no re-doing when it comes to instruction.
It should be apparent that this also requires of parents that they do their utmost. The admonition comes to fathers not at the exclusion of mothers, but as the responsible head of the home. As parents we make this promise at the baptism of our children. So often we think in terms of schooling when we stand before such an injunction of Scripture. This is important, and parents must do their utmost to have the home and the school brought into harmony with the instruction received in the church. God’s Word is one and must be brought in that way to our children. Yet, the home must receive the emphasis. No one can, take the place of the parent in the calling to instruct.Assistance may be sought, but not replacement.
Part of the learning process includes discipline. In fact, the instruction and discipline go together. We, cannot have instruction without discipline, nor can discipline be effective without instruction.
As we mentioned, the reason for this is the fact that our children are conceived and born in sin. The work of regeneration does not change their nature entirely; it infuses new qualities into it. The struggle of Paul recorded in Rom. 7 depicts the conflict of a Christian, a struggle that begins already in infancy.
We must tell our children what is right and what is wrong. In fulfilling their calling as children, they sometimes fail. They sin against God in the things they do wrong. By discipline, we must show them in every deed that sin is serious business. They must learn to reject evil and seek that which is good. By instruction and discipline, we must act on God’s behalf to impress upon them that God is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins. Note carefully, we must not take God’s place: we must act on God’s behalf. All discipline must be “in the Lord.” We must tell our children that correction is required, because they have done wrong before God.
This will have a two-fold effect. It will help us as parents to discipline correctly. The discipline we place upon our children will be God-like. Yes, we will be angry, but we will not sin in our anger, Eph. 4:26. Sometimes we will reprimand and correct by admonition. Other times we will use the rod of correction. We will understand that discipline is not seeking revenge on our children that have sinned against us, rather we will recognize that all the methods we use in discipline must be directed to the end of correcting and making our children more spiritual in their struggle to overcome sin. The other effect will be that our children will receive that discipline for their own good. If we tell our children that they should obey us because we do so many things for them and they should treat us nicely, we miss the point in discipline. If we scare our children into obedience because we are so much stronger than they are, we make fearful slaves out of them. We may even try a little psychology and tell them that life is so much more enjoyable if everybody does his part in the home, all of which is true, but misses the point of discipline. If we truly tell our children that God is terribly displeased with all our sins, we impress upon them a sense of repentance and godly sorrow, The end of discipline must be repentance and forgiveness by God.
Under His divine blessing, instruction and discipline will bear fruit, in that our children will know the right way and walk in it. Yes, they will stumble along the way but we will patiently deal with them. Our children must not only see God’s wrath against evil, but God’s forgiving love and mercy as well.
Such instruction and discipline is heavenly, for it is in the Lord.