Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Bauer, Michigan.
What motivates a parent in the training of a child? Why do we want our children to behave? What motives should a godly parent have for rearing a child?
And what should be the goal in godly child-rearing?
Or is talk about motives and goals too abstract? Is it not true that motives and goals are the farthest thing from the parents’ mind at the moment they are disciplining a child who has just embarrassed them?
You want your young child to behave in the grocery store—why? You worry about what your teenager is doing on a Friday or Saturday night—why?
What should motivate believing parents? What should be the goals godly parents try to keep in mind when they are raising their children? How can we keep the right motivation and the right goals? It is nice to talk about these things, but how can we apply them in a real and practical way. We do not want only to talk about right goals and motives. We want to live them!
We are helped and guided in establishing our goals and motives by the example of the patriarch Job. The book which is named after him opens with a most remarkable description of him. He is said to be “perfect and upright, and one that feared God and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). Later God uses these same words to describe Job to the devil.
This description is followed by an example from Job’s life which indicates that he was upright, feared God, and eschewed evil. This example is taken from his home life. It is interesting to note that out of all of the activities in which Job was involved (and we can assume that he was perfect, upright, and feared God in all of them) the only example recorded for us is taken from his home life (Job 1:4, 5). If there were to be a record of your godliness and fear of God, would a biographer take his sole example from your home life? Is your godliness manifested as much in your home life as it is in the rest of your life? It should be! Our godly conduct in our homes should be the center of our piety.
From this one example of Job’s uprightness and fear of God we can learn what are to be the motives and goals in Christian child-rearing. The example of Job’s godliness taken from his home life is that he “sent and sanctified them (his children), and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.”
Job had great concern for his seven sons and three daughters. That in itself is not unusual. Even unbelieving parents have great concern for their sons and daughters. But Job’s concern was for his children’s holiness. That is not the first thing we might list when expressing our concerns for our children. We might have concern for our children’s health, for their proper diet and exercise. If they are ill, then this really becomes a concern. We might’ have concern for our children’s happiness, whether they are moody or whether they are creative. We might be concerned about our children’s development, whether they crawl before they walk or whether they learn to read easily. I We have concerns for our children’s future, that they marry someone with whom they will be truly happy, that they are able to find a good and stable job. We have all sorts of concerns.
But Job was concerned about the holiness of his seven sons and three daughters. That is unusual. But it is most wonderful.
That Job was concerned about his children’s holiness indicates that Job had an even greater concern, namely, his God. Job’s concern for his children’s holiness was motivated by his fear of God. He was not working for his children’s happiness, health, riches, job opportunities, or marriage prospects. Rather Job was concerned about his children’s relationship to God. Job was more concerned about God than he was about his children. Not that he had no concern for his children. He had great concern for them, but it was not separated from his concern for God. Therefore he was concerned about his children’s relationship to God. Therefore he was concerned about his children’s holiness. To be sanctified, or to be holy, means to be separated from sin and to be dedicated to serving and glorifying God.
Notice how great Job’s concern for his children’s holiness is: he was concerned about the mere possibility that his sons and daughters “may . . . have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5b). That this was his concern makes it obvious that Job was concerned more for God’s glory than for the welfare of his own children. God’s glory motivated him more than his children’s salvation. Job was motivated by concern for God first, and then for his children. And his concern for his children was related to his concern for God, namely, maybe they sinned against God! Maybe they cursed God instead of blessing Him.
Job’s concern for his children’s relationship to God revealed itself in a concern about a specific activity. Job knew what activities his children were engaged in. The context indicates that Job’s children were living on their own, in their own houses. The Bible shows that Job was not concerned about the specific activity they were involved in, namely, feasting. Rather Job’s concern was for the spiritual dangers which he knew threatened them in those activities. Job knew what his children were doing, but he did not show his concern by being nosy. Nor did Job show his concern by worrying or being anxious—something which would accomplish nothing for his children and only give himself headaches and ulcers.
Job’s children were involved in the legitimate pleasure of feasting. They would get together every day for a meal. The seven sons took turns hosting, one a day, inviting the three sisters to join them.
Job’s concern for God’s glory showed itself in that he was aware of how it is possible to sin, even while doing something which was not wrong in itself. Job knew there was always the possibility that his children, like any other people, might sin and curse God in their hearts (Job 1:5b). This statement makes it obvious that Job was more concerned about God, and about God’s being blessed, than he was about his children and their happiness, education, or well-being. Job truly did fear God. He was very concerned whether his children would sin and whether they would curse God in their hearts.
Are you? Who is more prominent in your concerns: God or your children. Are you, like Job, concerned only when you believe your children are involved in illegitimate activities? And then, what is it that motivates that concern: personal embarrassment, or the fear of God and whether He is blessed or cursed in their hearts?
Job was concerned only about the mere possibility of his children sinning: “may be” (Job 1:5b). And Job was concerned about the root, whether they might be sinning “in their hearts.” He wanted them to be holy, not just in their outward life, but especially in their inward life. Job desired the fear of God inthem; he wanted them to be blessing God in their hearts.
When we are concerned about the fact or possibility that our children have sinned or may be sinning, then we must do something about it. But what should we do? Job “rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all” (Job 1:5). Rising early indicates urgency. Is the fear of God an urgent matter in your life? Is your children’s holiness that which would make you rise up early? If these concerns do not grip your heart, then you have failed in child-rearing, no matter what else you do. If your children’s lives indicate that they do not fear the Lord, but you were concerned about their holiness, then you have not failed in child-rearing. You did all God required of you. You will hear, “Well done.”
Job rose early to offer burnt offerings. Burnt offerings are different from sin offerings. Sin offerings were for actual sins. Burnt offerings were for the general sinfulness of our depraved human natures. Job sought forgiveness, not of specific sins, but for the sinfulness of his children’s depraved natures, which natures Job himself gave to his children. Job asked God to forgive them of all of their sinfulness as well as for any sin they may have committed. By seeking that forgiveness with an offering, Job was showing that he sought that forgiveness in the blood of the Lamb which God promised to send, namely, the Messiah. He made it clear that forgiveness was needed, but that forgiveness was not going to be found anywhere else but in God. They could not find it in themselves or in anything else—just in the promised Messiah, whose sacrifice would provide salvation.
Job performed the activity of offering burnt offerings in the sight of his children. And Job did this continually. On a regular basis his children observed him offering sacrifices on their behalf. They had to be impressed with the seriousness of their sinfulness and of the possibility of sin in their hearts. They also had to be impressed with the awareness of forgiveness in God’s Lamb.
Job offered a burnt offering for each of his children.
On a regular basis we should teach our children of God, of His high demands, and of the forgiveness He provides in His Son. Bringing our children to the worship services is one very good way of doing that. The pure preaching of the gospel shows them the seriousness of sin, of their heart’s activity, and of forgiveness in Christ. In catechism and in the worship services the children, along with older people, are called to exercise faith in Christ and to receive forgiveness and righteousness through faith in Him.
In our homes parental example and instruction should do the same. It is very important that we always show them the blood, but this is especially so when they have sinned. Instead of only shouting and “laying down the law,” we should chasten in love and show that forgiveness is found in the mercy of God. The cross of Christ is powerful to work in their hearts the fear of God, love for God, and a willing desire to serve Him out of gratitude.
Pray for your children that they be forgiven if they have sinned. And pray that they will not sin, but will fear and bless God. Pray more for their fearing and blessing God than you pray for their physical health. Do this praying with earnestness and urgency, rising early because the matter is so important to you. Do this praying with concern for the particular needs of each child (Job did so “according to the number of them all”). As the parent, you know the weaknesses of each child. As the parent, you know better than anyone else the potential sins of each child. And do this praying as Job did: “continually.” The sanctification of our children is a lifelong struggle. When you receive the gift of a child, you begin a struggle which will not end until you or the child leaves this earthly life.
God promises to bless. The fruit of our concern and efforts for our children’s holiness God blesses. We do not read that Job tried to sanctify his children. Rather we read that he “sanctified them.” Job’s concern and great efforts bore fruit. This does not mean that Job himself made his children holy. That no human can do. Only God, through the Holy ‘Spirit, can make a person holy. In fact, we show that we are fully aware of the fact that we cannot make our children holy, and that it is only God who can make them holy, when we pray to God for them and when we take them to worship services and to catechism instruction. Only God can work in the heart, which is where holiness must begin. As parents, all we do is touch the outward appearance of their lives, and that we do so imperfectly. We cannot, but God can!
God reveals in His Word that He will make holy our children, but not necessarily all of them, and not only them. But He will make holy the elect, spiritual seed among our children. And God makes them holy through the instrumentality of our parental concerns and efforts. God is pleased to use our concern and efforts for His glory in our children as His means. This is the norm. Godly parents teach their children the fear of the Lord, which instruction God uses to work faith and repentance in the hearts of the elect, spiritual seed among them.
God did not make Job’s children healthy and well. Soon Job would bury all ten of them. Rather God used Job’s continual instructional activity as His means to destroy more and more the power of sin in their lives.
God usually blesses our efforts and prayers with the holiness of our children. This is a tremendous mercy. He uses weakest means to fulfill His will. Parenting is a hard work. It is difficult, spiritual work. It is not easy to rear children in the fear of the Lord. It is difficult to establish a godly home. In the consciousness of this difficulty every godly parent willingly takes a vow to God before his and her fellow saints, that they will use “the utmost of (their) power.”