Previous articlle in this series: October 1, 2010, p. 18.
Children obviously go through stages of growing up. At the beginning they have little or no knowledge or wisdom of their own. They must therefore be taught unquestioned obedience to their parents, before they are able to understand. This is a beautiful thing when it is the fruit of the Spirit’s operation in their hearts. Also we who are adults must, finally, obey God with childlike faith and trust, even when we do not understand God’s infinite and absolute truth and wisdom. His wisdom far transcends our puny wisdom, and His ways in our lives are higher than our ways.
It is foolish for a father to allow little children to argue with him and then to cave in to their whims and foolish imaginations. Small children cannot make good choices for themselves. Their parents must make the important choices of life for them. As soon as children are able to understand, they must also be taught principles and truths that are the basis for an obedience with knowledge and understanding. But obedience must come before complete understanding. Children must obey simply because father says so.
The molding of the lives of children takes a lot of patience and persistence and firm resolution. Little children will often fail to live up to the expectations of their parents. Admonition must be given repeatedly and consistently, waiting, according to the covenant promises of God, upon the Lord for the fruits of His grace to appear in the lives of our children. Parents must not yield to the sinful demands of their children simply to avoid the unpleasantness of conflict with them or because they are weary of their sinful whining. Parents must not be discouraged when the fruits of discipline do not appear immediately in the lives of their children. They must continue to labor diligently. Stubbornness and natural rebelliousness in the heart of the child must be driven out by loving, firm, consistent discipline and by repeated correction. When children fall many times, they must be picked up and encouraged over and over again in the same way that God does for us as our heavenly Father.
Authority and discipline of our children must be exercised with constant care and watchfulness. Fathers need to spend time with their children. The time a father spends with them and the attention he gives to them gives him the opportunity to demonstrate his steadfast and faithful love, which is so important for the exercise of his discipline over them. He must observe their behavior and use every opportunity to give guidance and instruction. A father who is always gone from the home will do very poorly in exercising authority over his children. By spending time with his children the father learns their natures and becomes more adept at correcting and giving counsel and the necessary patient, loving discipline.
The exercise of fatherly discipline must not be to degrade and humiliate his children. Children must be lovingly and patiently corrected and disciplined in the way of the Lord. Its loving purpose must not be to destroy but to build up and strengthen. Discipline must be done along with much encouragement. A father must not speak to his children only in order to admonish them. He must not be a harping and constantly evil critic of every behavior of his children. This will only exasperate and discourage the children. Submission and obedience must be praised and encouraged and rewarded with the promises of favor and blessing for his children.
As children are growing up, there is need for diligent and patient instruction in the truth of God and in the principles of His law with an open Bible. Young people will at times resist this. A father must be there during this crucial time of their lives to give the necessary guidance and instruction and discipline. He must teach them the reason for obedience, and the excellence and goodness of this obedience in the sight of God. “For this is right [before God]” (Eph. 6:1). The parallel passage in Colossians 3 says, “This is well pleasing unto the Lord.”
Our young people are living in an increasingly wicked and immoral world, where they are being taught things as radical as that there are no absolutes of right and wrong, everything is relative. Young people are bombarded with many and graphic temptations in the world, such as the everywhere present and increasingly graphic display of pornography. Without the protection and continual guidance and example of their godly fathers, many will be led into great evil by the temptations of the devil and of the wicked world in which they live and because of the weakness of their own sinful nature. Godly fathers must teach their children what is right and pleasing, honorable and glorious, in God’s sight. When the world mocks and ridicules them, they must be taught their calling to be willing to suffer shame for the Lord’s sake and to maintain His truth and righteousness in their lives.
The goal of the exercise of father’s authority in the home is not the realization of his own human pride by seeking merely to produce children who are respectable and honorable in human society and who attain to great heights of learning and achievement and wealth in this present world. There is a great temptation to make this the primary goal of the disciplining of our children. How we love to boast about our own children. But the much more important goal of the exercise of father’s authority in the home is to teach His children willing, submissive, loving obedience, from the heart, to God, which in the sight of God is of great price. Only such obedience is pleasing to God.
This kind of obedience is possible in the hearts of our covenant children only by the wonder of grace in their hearts and through the operations of His Holy Spirit in their hearts. The godly father must exercise his God-given authority in the raising and nurturing of his children as they grow up with this goal in mind. He must do this prayerfully and earnestly and in his own personal faith and dependence on the Lord.
The time will come when discipline has to be slowly withdrawn. Children must be brought to maturity. They must be able to go on alone. They must make their own good and responsible decisions in their life. Our fatherly discipline must prepare and equip them for this time of their life.
There is great joy in obedience before God. There is great joy in the favor and blessing of God. Children must know the reality of this in the behavior of their fathers. A father must not cast a dark cloud over life in his covenant home with his children by his own constantly morose appearance and behavior. There is a time to laugh and a time to weep, a time of joy and a time of sorrow. Fathers should not imagine that they are compromising their authority over their children when there is time for laughter and joy and happiness, the beginning of our everlasting joy in the Lord. The Scriptures command us to “rejoice in the Lord always.”
There is a real and proper joy. This joy must be truly in the Lord. It is experienced not in the way of sin and rebellion against God but in the way of walking in His truth and enjoying His favor and blessing on our life. Proverbs 23:24, 25 says, “The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him. Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.” The joy of the Lord is our strength. Singing and thanksgiving and joyful praise to God are part of true Christian living. They must accompany times of necessary discipline, correction, and godly sorrow over sin.
Godly fathers must be careful not to provoke their children to wrath by their own sinful parenting. God’s Word warns fathers about this. This happens when authority is exercised by the father in unholy anger and human pride. This happens when discipline is uncontrolled, harsh, cruel, and unprincipled. A father must discipline his children in such a way that his love and genuine concern for their spiritual welfare is clearly evident. Discipline must be clearly according to the Word of God and not simply to satisfy the expectations and pride of fathers.
Firm discipline, sometimes even causing necessary pain and sorrow for children, periods of crying on their part, will not be detrimental to the healthy spiritual and psychological development of children. Worldly child psychologists sometimes teach this, but with all their supposed learning, these psychologists are foolish and even evil. Properly administered godly discipline, and strong, principled instruction of children, will by God’s grace teach them the fear of God and godly submission to Him in all of their lives. Certainly we must not compel our children to walk in our own sins. Some fathers actually do this, with total and defiant disregard of the law of God. What great evil it is when parents teach their children by word and example the ways of ungodliness that will lead to the judgment of God and great trouble.
In our discipline of our children we must always be sympathetic to their many weaknesses and shortcomings. We must not make unrealistic demands of them, nor expect that they will never fall. We must not become so angry with our children over their falls that for long periods of time we do not even speak to them. We must ever keep in mind our own sinfulness. We must be humble about our own weaknesses and sins and daily confess our own weakness, even before our children, and show true godly sorrow and daily repentance. Finally, when our children repent of their sins we must bring them to the cross and encourage and comfort them with the Lord’s forgiving mercy and the joy and blessing of God’s salvation.
In our next article we will write about the subject of the obedience of children.