We had a sociology class when I was in college in which we spent much time belaboring the question of what is the chief characteristic (we called it mode) of the various institutions in society. Concerning marriage, for instance, what is its chief characteristic? Is it spiritual or biological or psychical or social or what?
Without getting deeply involved in the various social spheres, for this article we must begin by distinguishing, as does the Bible, between marriage and the family as institutions. The marriage is one institution and the family is another, even though they are closely connected and are united under the one concept of the home. Marriage was instituted in Genesis 1:27 and 2:22-25, which read:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
“And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
Christ interprets these verses in Matthew 19, and also Paul shows its spiritual analogy in Ephesians 5, to show that marriage is a total unity of two persons. It is established socially as a biological unity but is fundamentally a spiritual unity in which two separate people become intrinsically one, so united that a wife is in total submissive agreement with her husband and the husband is in total loving service of his wife as if feeding his own body. This discussion could be extended for chapters under the topic of marriage alone.
By contrast, the family, is the extension of marriage and the fruit of marriage but may not be confused with the institution of marriage itself. The family is a distinct institution of God, originated in Genesis 1:28:
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.”
Following the fall into sin, the curse of God fell upon both marriage and family (apart from grace) so that God through the Psalmist said,
“Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”
Yet God in principle restored the blessedness of the family for His people so that those who walk in His covenant know:
“If ye walk in my statutes. . .1 will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you.” (Leviticus 26:3a & 9)
“Lo children are an heritage of the LORD! and the fruit of the womb is his
reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5a) “Thy children shall be like olive plants round about thy table.” (Psalm 128:3b)
We see here that the family extension of marriage is a great blessing, a fruitfulness given by God, and that it is an extension into further fellowship and fruitfulness. Both marriage and the family are rooted in love- in unity, which is socially biological, but which spiritually encompasses the whole life. The family however, remains always the extension of that primary marital life in such a way that the marriage life produces the family in every way, not only biologically but in every area of life. And so, the primary calling of the home in relation to the children is to train the children, to train them spiritually and in relation to all of life. This is clearly seen throughout all of Scripture: “fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
“For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD. …” (Genesis 18:19a)
“these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto they children. . . .” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7a)
“whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” (Proverbs 3:12)
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
(See also Proverbs 13:24, 19:18;23:13-14, and more.)
From these verses and all of Scripture, we can see that training the children is the basic characteristic of the family This would have been true even in the hypothetical family had there been no fall into sin. In our sinful world it involves many griefs and includes chastening and often sternness which are results of sin, yet training remains the key characteristic of the relationship between marriage partners to their family.
The training of the family always has three essential and interwoven components. Without any of these, the training is simply not properly there and must fail before God.
# 1 TRAINING BEGINS WITH EXAMPLE.
Parents cannot expect children to be something which they themselves are not. Children are reflections of parents, their offspring, their look- a-likes! If parents walk in sin – yes, they are still training their children, but – they are training their children to sin. It is a devil’s hoax to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Just as each Christian is gradually conformed to the image of the heavenly Father as seen in Christ, so also children of earthly parents conform to the image of their parents. If earthly parents are earthy parents (that is, earth-centered rather than God-centered) only earthly children can result. But where the grace of God operates in parents to make them godly parents – loving God with all their heart and thus loving also their neighbor, including their children – there God’s grace will also apply this example to the hearts of the elect children in calling them from their natural foolishness to imitate their earthly parents in loving their spiritual Father.
Haven’t you seen this often?
Watch young children walk. If their parents saunter the children saunter. If the parents stride, the children stride.
Watch their mannerisms. If the parents slouch, the children slouch. If the parents whistle, the children try to whistle. If the parents slobber as they eat, the children slobber as they eat.
Listen to their speech. If the parents brag a lot, the children will brag. If the parents ridicule the church, the children learn quickly to ridicule the church. If the parents run down women and motherhood, the children quickly learn to dishonor their mother.
Example is the first and strongest teacher!
#2 TRAINING CONTINUES WITH INSTRUCTION
That old school of Dutchmen was wrong which said that the person who speaks much of spiritual things is a hypocrite and that true spirituality is seen in actions alone apart from words. True, godliness begins in the heart and is confirmed in consistent living, and true, where godly living is absent, words are lifeless. But where there is godly life in the heart, confirmed by a consistent godly life, there also this life will be expressed in speech.
So too with training. Let’s go again to Deuteronomy 6. “Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest. . . when thou walkest. . .when thou liest down. . .when thou risest up.’’ (6:7)
Or, read the book of Proverbs. This whole book is the verbal instruction which a father should give his children! Solomon says words (1:2) of instruction (1:3) will give wisdom to the young man, his son (1:4-6). The father in Proverbs says, “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (1:8). The father says to his son, “My son, if thou wilt receive my words” (2:1). He says, “Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father. . .” (4:1). Over and over, oral instruction is emphasized and demanded.
Oral instruction of children demands mental knowledge on the part of fathers and mothers. Parents who have been lazy in their own pursuit of knowledge won’t have much to offer their children.
It also demands spiritual knowledge on the part of the parents. Parents without the love of God themselves cannot possibly teach the love of God.
I can feel this so much in working with my own small children! Even in the teaching of catechism or Bible stories, the parent in his instruction must not teach mere head knowledge but must teach the love of God. This begins with the fear of God in holy respect for holy things. Catechism may be taught until it is letter-perfect but is worthless if it is not learned with holy reverence for God.
For children of any age – small, teenage or adult – this means being thankful for parental instruction. Mockery is so common and so easy. Don’t mock the holy speech of parents which has the goal of instruction in godliness! Be thankful for parents who speak of God and of His Word, who instruct in godliness, who warn against sin which can so swiftly destroy youth and the whole life. Read Proverbs frequently to hear the instruction parents should be giving their children. And thank God when your parents obey Him by instructing you!
*3. TRAINING CULMINATES IN MOLDING.
Along with example and instruction, training includes careful supervision of children with an insistence that they conform to the Biblical pattern of godliness. Parents are, much to their frequent chagrin, responsible for the sin of their children. The children’s sin has its roots in the parents’ own sinful natures and God holds them responsible for it to the extent that they do not fight and counteract sin in their children.
This does not mean parental strangling of a child’s personality. A pear tree must not be changed into an apple tree. Nor may an apple tree be de-rooted and pruned to remain a dwarf tree; any horticulturist knows that a dwarf tree has less fruit and a far shorter life expectancy than a full- grown, untampered tree.
Molding a child does mean constant awareness of the child’s development with interception whenever needed to aid the child in his struggle to maturity. A pear tree needs more protection against winter cold than does an apple tree. Some trees need more watering than other trees. All trees need sufficient watering and sufficient food supply. Trees need to be sprayed for pests and blight, and, especially while young, to be protected from weeds.
Molding a child does mean chastening as necessary – first verbal reproof, gently, then sternly, and then use of physical discipline in proportion to the degree of sin on the part of the child.
There is no such thing as a single foolproof method of raising a child and that is why most books on how to raise a child fail. Without a doubt, there are many things which a Christian parent ought not to do in training a child. Also, without doubt, every Scriptural directive is foolproof. So we can receive advice and learn from each other. But yet there is no method of training which cannot fail.
Rather, God equips each Christian parent with the necessary abilities to train His children in His way.
And God promises His blessing on our truly godly efforts. As we walk in godliness, as we instruct His children, as we chasten and lead them, God’s Word encourages:
“Thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.’’ Let us be faithful and our faithful God will bless!
Consider reading “Peaceable Fruit’’ in connection with raising your children.