Previous article in this series: February 1, 2011, p. 207.
The familiar words of the title of this article are taken from Ephesians 6:4. This verse describes in a rather comprehensive way the calling of parents. Each word that the inspired apostle uses has its significant nuance of meaning. To ‘bring up’ means to nurture. The word translated as ‘nurture’ refers to all the education and training that is necessary to bring a child from infancy to mature adulthood and responsible independent Christian living. The word ‘admonition’ speaks of discipline and chastening. This word in the original language comes from the verb that literally means to put in the mind, to admonish, warn, exhort, and counsel. We can perform this calling only when we ourselves truly know the Lord, rely on Him, trust in Him, follow Him, and glory in Him alone.
The work of parenting involves the joint effort of father and mother. The address of Ephesians 6 and the parallel text in Colossians 3:21 is first of all to fathers, because the father must take the lead. The father’s role does not end with the procreation of children. Many fathers in the world imagine this to be the case. The grossest violation of God’s order imaginable is carelessness regarding children born out of wedlock. There are, besides, wicked men who are married and abandon their wives when they are faced with the great responsibility of parenting their own children.
Fathers must not make their careers so important that they are derelict as fathers. The role of father is more than bringing home the paycheck, or even making enough money so that the family can live in a beautiful home, enjoy all kinds of earthly luxuries, go on exciting vacations, etc. Father must be home enough to be with his family, to give on-going spiritual counsel, discipline, and encouragement to his children.
But the task of parenting is also the duty and obligation of the wife and mother. She is called by the Word of God to be a keeper at home. She is called to love her husband and to love her children and to devote herself to this, even as the major calling of her life.
Children need the influence of both father and mother in their lives as they are growing up. That is exactly why children are given by the Lord to married couples. Both parents have their unique and even mysterious influence. The two complement each other. Those who in the providence of God have lost their spouse in death, or who have been abandoned by them through the treachery of divorce, know how difficult it is to be a single parent. God gives special grace to His children who find themselves in this circumstance of life.
Children must be nourished and brought up. This is far more than a matter of physical care and psychological development. It is above all the spiritual nurture of our children. We have our children in the home for only a very short time. In the time of childhood, principles of truth and godly morality must be instilled in the minds and hearts of our children. Godly character must be molded and shaped. Foundations must be given to our children, upon which they will be able to build by the grace of God for their whole life.
The work of parenting is an awesome responsibility. It requires a great deal of effort on the part of parents. It requires self-sacrificial love, self-denial, and diligent devotion to the task. It requires a willingness on the part of parents to be constantly engaged in the lives of their children. In the Christian family it requires that there be ongoing communication or communion and fellowship. This requires time and personal interest in the lives of our children. Correction is most effective and powerful when it is given in the context of genuine parental love. This love must be deeply personal. Children must have a profound sense of the personal, special affection of their parents. Most of all, great wisdom and spiritual understanding are necessary. They are needed as we deal with our children at each new stage of their development.
Parenting requires a lot of patience, perseverance, and steadfastness on the part of fathers and mothers. The work is by no means easy. Children do not always immediately show fruits of godliness in their lives. As great a blessing as children are, there are also many struggles and anxieties in raising them in the fear of the Lord. Conflicts will arise between parents and children, especially in the teenage years. Parents need great wisdom and compassion. The firmness required to overcome these conflicts is possible by the grace of God. Patience and persistence have the promise of yielding the fruit of righteousness in our children. Sometimes this fruit will not become evident until sometime later in their lives. Parents must not give up in discouragement and despair but continue in faith and prayer.
The truth of God’s Word must be the foundation of the lives of our children. True Christianity needs a doctrinal foundation. Christianity is not just about feeling and experience. True faith and godliness flow from the knowledge of sound doctrine. For this reason we must be members of a church where there is sound doctrinal preaching. How supportive we should be of formal, rigorous, and extensive catechism instruction from early childhood and into the later teenage years of our young people. We are also thankful for our Christian schools, where sound principles of God’s truth are taught to our children, and our children are instructed also as to how these principles of godliness must be applied and worked out in every area of life.
Fathers must be teachers of sound doctrine in the covenant home. They are, according to their God-given nature, most qualified for this. They must teach this doctrine with fatherly authority and wisdom and understanding gained through their own careful study of the Word of God and extensive reading. There should in every home be a measure of formal instruction of the father to the children. It is most excellent if the father is really and actively involved in the catechism preparation of the children. He must be well-read and studied and mature in the understanding of the great doctrines of the Word of God. He needs this for his own ongoing steadfastness and for his calling in the church, but also for the raising of his covenant children. As a pastor for many years I have been so heartened to have children in catechism class who obviously have parents, and perhaps especially fathers, who are active in supporting the catechism training of their children.
If children do not receive a strong foundation in sound doctrine in their lives, they are vulnerable in later life to being tossed about by every wind of doctrine and the cunning craftiness of men of the world, who lie in wait to deceive. Ours is an age of dreadful apostasy in the church world. This is one of the chief signs that we are indeed living in the last days. Sound doctrine can be maintained only when at the same time false doctrine is warned against and rightly condemned on the basis of the Word of God. Children must learn discernment. When they grow up, we hope they will make confession of their faith in the church in which they have been raised. To do this properly they need to know the doctrines maintained in our church. When they face the prospect of marriage, some of our young people leave our church and sometimes go to churches that have gone far down the road of apostasy—all for the sake of mates they have chosen. This will have very serious consequences for their later lives. Is this not the chief reason why we lose some of our young people?
Children must at times be chastened in their lives. “Whom the father loves he chastens.” Let us not go along with the foolish idea that chastisement is cruel and detrimental to psychological development of our children. Discipline teaches our children the seriousness of sin and the fear of God. When children are not disciplined, they will continue in sin. Their hearts will become hardened in the way of sin. Sinful patterns of behavior will begin to develop already in the days of youth, and we can expect that this will only grow worse and worse in their later life. The rod of correction must be properly used in true love for our children to drive sin and evil far from their hearts.
Children must be strongly warned against the sins of the world. They must be taught the reality of the truth that friendship of the world is enmity against God. All that is in the world is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Never before has there been in the world such a threat, especially for our young people. We know that, according to Scripture, this will increase more and more as the end of the world and the day of final judgment of the world is hastening. There are two sins especially that our children and young people must be warned about, because of their power and potential destructiveness. First, the sins of immorality are increasing more and more in the world in which we live. We ourselves must realize how dreadful the situation really is. The movie industry, the worldwide Internet, and the constantly developing and changing new electronic media are threats to our young people. As amazing as this electronic media is, and as much potential there may be for good and proper use of it, this industry is also the most powerful instrument ever in the hands of the devil to promote more and more gross and brazen immorality in the world. Immorality is more and more being accepted as normal. And the consequences are grievous. Many marriages and homes are being destroyed. The sins of immorality are leading many strong men to hell’s destruction. Our young people need to be warned about the soul-destroying power of this philosophy.
The second sin warned against very often in the Word of God and equally powerful and destructive to true spirituality and godliness is the sin of covetousness. Maybe there is less awareness of the dangers of this for ourselves and our children than we as parents realize. The love of money is the root of all evil. Our children must be taught in their covenant homes to seek the kingdom first in their life and to consider material things of only secondary importance. This is no doubt one of the greatest challenges of parenting. We cannot expect to nurture our children in the fear of the Lord if we by the example of our own life are covetous and addicted to materialism.
Much more can be said. This article is too long already. One more thing of primary importance. Our children must be nurtured in the love of God. We believe that, because we ourselves and our children are conceived and born in sin, we are, by nature, prone to hate God and the neighbor. We cannot even begin to love, except by the power of God’s love in our hearts. The greatest thing we need to nurture in our children is love for God and love for the neighbor. The world presents to our children such a depraved, perverted form of love. It is urgent that in our parenting we teach our children the true love of God and the neighbor. This love must be guided by His truth and holiness. This love must be shown in our every word and deed and not just be a theory. Central to true godliness is kindness, compassion, and real concern and sympathy for the neighbor. Our children must learn these things in our covenant homes. May God help us to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.