Parents are called by God to train their children in the principles and practice of wisdom. Children must learn the wise way to walk in all areas of life.
No area of life is exempt from this training. Money? It must be used wisely! Friendship? It must be formed wisely! School subjects? Labor? Your future vocation? Keeping a bedroom orderly? Every area of life must be walked wisely!
Wisdom is a spiritual matter. Children are required by God to walk in wisdom before Him. Parents are required to train their children to walk in wisdom. And all of life is intrinsically spiritual. In every area of life we either walk wisely by faith and so glorify God or else walk foolishly in unbelief and exalt the devil rather than God.
To walk in wisdom is a struggle, a warfare. To train a child to walk in wisdom is doubly a warfare. Because we as Christians have two natures, our natures battle with each other. The old man wants to rebel while the new man wants to obey.
This spiritual warfare is true of the adult child of God, who has already fought the battle with sin many years. It is also true of children who have only begun the fight and must learn all about the warfare from scratch. They must learn that there is a battle, there really is!; that the battle is against Satan and his host; what the tools of the devil are; and what are his own weapons against sin and Satan.
And so, parents are required to train their children to be spiritual warriors.
Following are two short stories. They are not factual but are intended to make us think about what it means to be a Christian warrior. We must know this before we can understand how parents should be training us. Read these and decide which is the better allegory of a Christian warrior.
STORY 1: JOHN IN NIGERIA John was an American whose parents were missionaries to the black people of Nigeria. As he grew up, he was surrounded by black people, learned their language, learned their customs, ate their food. Although he was a white child, he identified with the black children and thought of himself as black.
STORY 2: JENNIFER IN AMERICA Jennifer was a Nigerian child whose father was an ambassador to the United States. Her mother and she accompanied him to the United States and often took part in his work as ambassador. They attended many meetings with him, met many other ambassadors and met Americans by the hundreds. They had meals with the President of the United States. But, always, they retained their Nigerian identity. They wore the Nigerian loose robes and turbans, preferred the Nigerian beans, rice and yams, and loved best the traditional Nigerian dialect with which they had grown up. Always, their hearts were back home with their own people in the land they loved.
Now, looking at these two stories as allegories of a Christian warrior, which story best illustrates a Christian in this world?
Answer: Without question, it is the second story, of Jennifer and her parents in America! This is the picture of a Christian pilgrim.
It is true that the first story may better picture an effective missionary. To be a good missionary, a person must lay aside all cultural differences, forget the color of the skin, and identify with the people to whom he ministers. . . though never to the point of adopting new and foreign sins. John’s identification with the black people, his love of them, was a good missionary quality.
But the second story is the one which illustrates Christian warfare in this world. We as Christians live in a foreign country spiritually. Although we associate with hundreds of people, they are not like we are nor we like they. Our home is not this earth but heaven. And although a foreign language is heard by us every day, our language must be different, must be that of God’s special people. Although the world’s customs are inescapable sights, we must have customs peculiar to God’s people. While the world fishes and plays tournament ball games on Sunday, we attend church and keep the entire day holy. Whereas the world swears openly and boldly, we honor God’s Name. The world grins and winks lustfully and jokes obscenely; we keep a guard on our tongues to be holy in speech. The world mocks sin and laughs at all forms of it; we weep when we fall into sin and ask for forgiveness.
Now, none of this is natural. By nature we, like John in Nigeria, identify with the world around us and desire to be like it. But God uses His Word and Spirit to teach us to be different from the world. Within the home, He uses the training of parents in the Word and applies this by His Spirit to teach us to be different from the world around us. It’s not natural!
In what ways do our parents train us to be different, to be pilgrims?
#1. We must SEE in our parents a difference. They read different literature than the world reads (parents, what sort of books do our children most frequently find on our bookshelves and in our hands?) Our parents talk in a way different from the world even when the same topics are discussed. They believe different things. Different things are important. Even though our parents use the things of this world, it is clear that they could easily part with them also, for their hearts are in heaven with the God whom they love.
#2. And then, we must HEAR our parents teach us this difference. They must tell us how to behave as citizens of heaven, must teach us why we behave this way, must explain what we believe and why we believe it. They must know what we are doing and hear what we say and constantly discern whether we do understand and behave as citizens of heaven, giving us encouragement or rebuke and warning as we need it. Such teaching we should be eager to receive, also!
#3. And finally, when we in our natural weakness rebel and want to act like the world around us, our parents must stop us, doing whatever is necessary to motivate us to behave like what we are, God’s children. They must TRAIN us, insisting on righteousness in every area of life. Although spiritual righteousness is always a matter of the heart, yet God uses external restraints and discipline – combined with Godly example and instruction – to work this internal motivation to righteousness.
How is such Godly training in spiritual warfare seen in everyday life? Young people, don’t ridicule your parents for every failure, because such training is difficult! Parents begin as young people themselves and have to learn how to train their children through experience. They have to struggle to know how to train you. Ask yourselves what you in a few years might do in these following situations:
- In a one-year-old: Shawn eyes Mama out of the corner of his eye as he surreptitiously so tempting! How should the Godly mother train her little son?
- In a four-year-old: Alyssa knows stealing is sin and doesn’t really want to steal, but when Mama is out of sight the temptation is too strong and she has to take the forbidden candy. When Mama realizes this some time later, how should she train Alyssa?
- ln a six-year-old: Jon is a first-grader and Mom wants him to do his work well and is glad when she sees him enjoying school. . .but then she realizes that he is frequently comparing himself to the other students and is developing a superior attitude. How can she work to get him to do his best without this wrong attitude?
- In a ten-year-old: Peter has had to struggle with school ever since Kindergarten and now had developed an antagonistic attitude, refusing to study and hating even to learn his catechism. Because study is hard for him, should Mom let things slide? How can Dad and Mom show understanding and still insist that Peter do his best for God’s sake?
- In a twelve-year-old: Mary likes the skimpy clothing of her girlfriends because it is “so cute’’ and “popular’’. If other Christian parents are allowing this clothing but Mary’s parents feel it is not consistent with the seventh commandment, can they permit her this freedom to decide and still be training her in Godliness?
- In a fourteen-year-old: Tim believes he is mature enough to spend the evenings where and with whom he pleases, unsupervised. How will a Christian parent train a fourteen-year- old?
- In a sixteen-year-old: Susan usually obeys her parents but has an invitation to a movie and wants to attend “just one, just once, to know what it is really all about, why it’s bad.’’ Should a heavenly-centered training allow this “just once’’? Why or why not?
In actual practice, spiritual training cannot exist without basic training in the fundamentals of Christian living, the “means of grace”. These basics cannot be over-emphasized because all practical areas must build on these basics. Three areas of home training are paramount here.
First, we must train in proper use of the sabbath. (I wish I could take an entire 1985 article in the STANDARD BEARER by Rev. Gritters and squeeze it in right here!) Teaching our children to love and keep the sabbath day must include these things:
- a) Putting enough value on the sabbath to be properly prepared for it. We should quit work on time on Saturday, get enough rest on Saturday night (and probably Friday night also), pray for God’s blessing, and greet the day with longing for it.
- b) Emphasizing the worship services. This means we pray for the minister and office-bearers and the congregation as well as for ourselves. It means we get to church on time – not to spy on others coming in but to meditate and pray, preparing our hearts and minds for worship and listening. It includes – and oh, how vital this is! – a reverent attitude of worship in the fear of God. It includes singing thoughtfully, from the heart, mindful of each word. It includes attentive listening to the sermon (note-taking is not a bad idea.) It includes discussion of the sermon afterwards with an emphasis on believing and obeying God.
- c) Keeping the entire day holy. There are so many proper things to do on Sunday that it takes a spiritually dull mind (yes, which we all have sometimes) to wonder “what to do” on this day. Besides church, there is catechism to teach and to learn. There is preparation for the societies, for which the week never has enough time. We should be working to develop our personal Bible study separate from the societies. There are church periodicals to read. Activities we often neglect but should work more to cultivate are singing and private prayer. And then, watching what we discuss, there should be fellowship with other saints and visiting of the sick and lonely. One form of fellowship is writing letters to fellow Christians and to our missionaries. If we really begin to value and to use Sunday properly, the unfinished activities will spill over into the evenings of the week and make us impatient for the coming sabbath!
Second, we must train in personal Scripture study and prayer. These two are inseparable. Only God’s Spirit can open our eyes to understand and apply the Word. . .and the first application of the Word is to pray. Either apart from the other will get nowhere.
But it takes emphasis: the parent must train the child in these things! A child may well observe a parent studying Scripture without responding by studying it himself. He may hear a parent recommend personal study but not know how to begin. A parent must work with his children to establish habits of personal Bible study and prayer. Such habits must be taught as both a responsibility and a pleasure, a joyful privilege.
Third, we must promote singing in our homes. As a denomination, our churches rightly emphasize congregational singing rather than choirs or other special music because God is glorified through congregational worship rather than entertainment of the congregation. This personal worship must be found also in our homes. Love of God must find expression in song. . . by all family members. When we can learn to play a musical instrument, this may be a good aid to us, but the emphasis must be not on the instrument but on singing. God is glorified as our hearts give expression to our love for Him through the words of praise.
Actually, singing is an extension of our speaking. Were a home to lack all musical ability – which is so rare I have never seen it – but if in that home God were still adored and spoken of with reverent training of the children, then that Godly speech would overcome the absent singing. For true singing is, at root, adoration of God in language. Its value lies in its ability to aid our hearts to be lifted up to God, as well as in the value of the words which can be more easily memorized and recalled in melodic form. Take away the love of God and the value of the words, and music is void of spiritual value, a mere, empty, aesthetic achievement.
In summary, then: Christian spiritual training begins with the basics of Christian living and applies this to all of life. The parent has the awesome responsibility and privilege to set an example, to instruct, and to train each member of the family in each area of life to serve God, walking in holiness before Him.
Check your home. Does this training, though weakly, occur there? And, even when it hurts your pride and dignity, are you thankful for such training? Are you as young people conscious also that you must be preparing yourselves to train your own children in just a few more short years? For it is in this way, the way of parental training applied by God’s Spirit to the heart, that covenant children grow up in Godliness as citizens of that better country by faith. In this way God’s children grow up to be wise.