God’s Design for the Family
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God’s Design for the Family

Deuteronomy 5:16  (ID: 1621)

The strongest society is one in which families are held together under the authority of Scripture. The Bible provides parents with direction on how they can teach their children in a way that does not embitter them but rather prompts genuine love and obedience. Alistair Begg reminds parents that their primary objective should be turning their children’s hearts toward Christ, which in turn creates the foundation for outward change.

Series Containing This Sermon

Parental Priorities

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 21801

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn together this morning to Deuteronomy chapter 5. And with your Bible open at Deuteronomy chapter 5, I’m going to read for us from verse 1:

“Moses summoned all Israel and said:

“Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up [to] the mountain.) And he said:

“‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“‘You shall have no other gods before me.

“‘You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to [thousands] who love me and keep my commandments.

“‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“‘Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.’” (Which is always a problem to me when I think of eating out on the Lord’s Day.) “‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

“‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“‘You shall not murder.

“‘You shall not commit adultery.

“‘You shall not steal.

“‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

“‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.’

“These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.”

This is the Word of God.

Our text this morning is verse 16: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

Each time I conduct a wedding, I remind the couple that the strength and happiness of human society can only be strong, can only be meaningful, beneficial, when the family unit, when marriage, is held in honor. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the well-being of a nation begins in its homes—that what happens behind closed doors in the individual family units of this nation is the one largest single contributing factor to the state of our nation this morning. As much as we may want to point out and beyond and around to all kinds of influences, which certainly have a part to play, the Scriptures are unequivocal in directing us to this foundational premise: that the measure of respect for authority, the nature of love between husband and wife, the standard of purity, the dimensions of honesty, the compassion and care—no matter what area of life we may mention, within the homes of our nations we establish what will then be seen to flow through the rest of society. Not only is the family the basic social unit of our lives, but it is also the foundational spiritual unit, the parents being entrusted with the unique responsibility of training their children in respect to all these things.

Not only is the family the basic social unit of our lives, but it is also the foundational spiritual unit.

And this morning, seizing the opportunity that I have of one Sunday, as it were, in the midst of many with no before and no after in terms of any kind of continuity, it’s on my heart to share with you this message, which I would simply entitle “Family Life God’s Way.” It’s certainly not new. There is nothing that you haven’t heard before. But I felt constrained to bring it before us as a congregation by way of reminder. And there were three particular factors which led to that today, three separate but not unrelated incidents.

One has been the proliferation of baby dedications that we’ve been doing, because we read regularly from Deuteronomy chapter 6. And I had the sense that we may be reading from Deuteronomy chapter 6 without very much consideration of what precedes Deuteronomy 6—namely, chapter 5. And of course, you will notice that when Deuteronomy 6 begins, it says, “These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe.”[1] What were these decrees and commands and laws? They were the Ten Commandments. So posited on the Ten Commandments is our instruction that we say we want to give to our parents in this church and frames, at the same time, the way in which we want to nurture family life. So that was one factor that trained my mind in this way.

The second factor is the phrase family values, which is becoming a political football as we hasten towards the election of a new president. Everybody and their uncle is onto family values. It is politically savvy to know something about family values. And there is an unbelievable amount of hogwash going under the heading of family values; I’d like to address that a little.

And then the third factor was that this past week, I had occasion to sit in a hospital anteroom waiting room, which had a TV on over in the corner, over which I had no control, and it was one of those morning talk shows, which I never see. And on this particular morning talk show—I never saw the beginning nor the end of it—but I just kept hearing parents, especially moms, saying certain things about the bringing up of their children. And the one which stood out to me was the mother who said, “When I go in the department store or in the supermarket, I just buy my child anything he wants. It’s the only way I can shut him up.” So I said to myself, “That doesn’t sound like a good idea.” And then that was last Monday, and then it’s just kind of been brewing since.

Now, so that we don’t divorce this from the totality of all that we’ve been discovering in these days, let me remind you that approximately three weeks ago, in the evening, we affirmed the absolute necessity of the authority of the Bible. You remember we said there were three things that were foundational in the life of a church that was going to be true to biblical convictions? One, the authority of Scripture; two, the sufficiency of Christ; three, the priority of prayer. A number of you heard that. A number of you concurred with it and said, “Yes, I believe that to be true.” The question is: What does the authority of the Bible mean in practical terms? I mean, to say we believe in the authority of the Bible is one thing. It, after all, is true to the faith of our forefathers. It puts us in the position of orthodoxy. But what does it actually mean? Well, one of the ways that we’re able to illustrate that is to say, “Well, what does it mean to say that we believe in the authority of the Bible when it comes to the matter of family living?” And then, you see, what we do is we come to family living not on the basis of what society tells us but on the basis of what God’s Word dictates to us.

Let me illustrate this by turning you first of all to Genesis 2:24. Genesis 2:24. Jill Tweedy, a writer in The Guardian in Britain years ago, wrote an article which was entitled “When Marriage Is Just a Cage.” And in the course of that article, I recall her saying, “I hope, now that I am free from marriage, that outwith the bounds and bonds of this ancient institution I will be able for the first time to find out what true love is all about.”[2] That’s fifteen years old, that quote, but I’m pretty sure it’s accurate. She figured that outside the bonds of marriage she would discover true love. Society today says that marriage is a social convenience; that marriage is something that, through the course of time, man has opted into. Society doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Genesis 2:24 tells us what the foundation of monogamous relationships between a man and a woman are all about and from whence they come. God creates man. He creates woman; he makes a woman from the rib of the man. He brings her to the man. The man looks at the woman and says, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” And then Moses records, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”[3]

They leave; they come together in marriage; they are united in sexual intimacy—the total reverse of contemporary Western culture. Western culture is: you are united in physical intimacy; if it works or if you like it or if you aren’t finished uniting with as many as you choose to unite with, then keep going; but if not, maybe we will decide to set up home and to finally make this legal. What does the authority of the Bible say? The authority of the Bible says God’s plan was this: that the man and the woman would be united under God, and in the union under God and before society and before the watching world, whatever the cultural dimension of that would be in a society, they would then live together in all that cohabitual relationships would mean. Now, as soon as you lay that down and say that is foundational biblical truth, you realize how far away we are from what is being said in our culture.

The second thing we need to bring into it is just to go into Genesis 3 and to realize that what Genesis 3 says is that when sin entered into the world, sin had an impact on everything, not least of all upon the marriage relationship. And it’s not my purpose this morning to expound that, but if you read chapter 3, you understand why it is the way it is. Why is there pain in childbirth? I mean, why isn’t there an easier way to have children? You know, I mean, why can’t you get them off a Christmas tree or something? Why do we have to go through this stuff? God said this was how it was going to be. Why do you sweat, and why do mosquitoes eat you while you sweat? Because of Genesis chapter 3. The Bible is explicitly clear.

Also, in the midst of this, you will notice in verse 21 how the human family is served by the animal kingdom. This is not distinctly on the topic, but I wanted just to mention it. God did not have any of the vegetarian hang-ups which are part and parcel of so much that is going on today. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”[4] So all this Melanie stuff from the ’60s about “I don’t eat animals, and they don’t eat me,”[5] and all that jazz, which has become so much a part of our culture—we can interact with it as we choose, but just understand this: we can provide no foundational biblical basis for it.

God has established man as a distinct being. He made woman. He gave them to one another. He established marriage. He established family. He gave them dominion over the animals so that they would rule over them, which is totally counter to what is being said today, where man is just a kind of jumble-version ape, a super-transcendent freak, and he just has to take his place along with everyone else and every other creature. You see why the authority of the Bible is so important? You see, if you don’t start with the authority of the Bible, how are you going to have this discussion? What are you going to say?

Now, when we follow this through, it becomes very, very obvious that God is not unequivocal concerning these things. And when God says that children are to honor their fathers and their mothers, he absolutely means what he says, and he is very, very serious about it.

To notice how serious God was about the honor and respect which is necessary within the home, we need to turn to Exodus chapter 21. And in Exodus chapter 21, God lays down law in relationship to personal injury, law in relationship to how parents are to deal with their children, law in relationship to kidnapping.[6] And then, in verse 17, he says, “Anyone who curses his father or [his] mother must be put to death.” So if you curse your father or your mother and you happen to be living around Exodus 21 vintage, you’re a dead man or a dead woman. “Well,” you say, “that doesn’t happen today.” No, the penalty is no longer the same, but the place which God affords to respect for parents hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is the penalty, not the place of respect. God’s view of a child’s role within the home is as it was in Exodus 21, so that when children are disrespectful, cursing, and abusing their parents, they should be very glad that they’re not living back in the Pentateuchal period. But they should also realize that God has not changed his view regarding the gravity and the seriousness of what it means to live in submission to one’s mom and dad.

Turning it round the other way, if you turn to 1 Samuel 3, you realize how God was concerned about this in relation to Eli. You remember, he was the priest in the temple. He had two sons, one called Hophni, one call Phinehas. Hophni and Phinehas were guilty of blasphemy and of immorality. The story in 1 Samuel 3, of course, is the story that many of us know from Sunday school about Samuel waking up in the night, and he wakes up in the night, and he hears someone calling, and he thinks it’s Eli. He goes through and wakens Eli, and Eli says, “I didn’t call you; go back to your bed.” And he falls asleep again. Then he hears someone calling, and he goes back a second time, and Eli says, “Stop doing this; go back to your bed.” And the third time, Eli finally wakens up and says, “It’s not me calling you; it’s the Lord calling you. Next time you hear this, just say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant heareth.”[7]

Well, Eli should have been a little careful about that, because that’s exactly what Samuel did, and Samuel then had the responsibility of conveying a message to Eli which Eli didn’t want to hear. And the message that he conveyed to Eli was this: “Eli, you’re going to be punished because your sons have made yourself contemptible, and you, Eli, have failed to restrain them.” You’ll find that in verse 13: “For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about.”[8] He was culpable on the basis of his knowledge. He turned a blind eye to what his boys were doing.

God has not changed his view regarding the gravity and the seriousness of what it means to live in submission to one’s mom and dad.

There are parents right here in this room this morning, and you’re doing the exact same thing: you’re turning a blind eye to what your boys and your girls are doing. And you are in a dangerous, devasting situation. He knew about the sin, “his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them.”[9] Eli was, if you like, a pastor. He worked in the church with great faithfulness. He labored in the morning, and he labored in the day, and he labored in the evening, and much of his time was spent with the concerns of other people. Doubtless, people came and said, “Could you go here? Would you go there?” And Eli was glad to fulfill his obligations to the Lord. But in fulfilling his obligations to the Lord and to others, he failed to fulfill the obligations within his own home.

Do you remember the quote from Jim Dobson’s dad, when he wrote to him concerning his daughter? He wrote to his son, Jim, and he said,

[Your daughter] is growing up in the wickedest section of a world much farther gone into moral decline than the world into which you were [brought]. I have observed that the greatest delusion is to suppose that our children will be devout Christians simply because their parents have been, or that any of them will enter into the Christian faith in any other way than through their parents’ deep travail of prayer and faith. But this prayer demands time, time that cannot be given if it is all signed and conscripted and laid on the altar of career ambition. Failure for you at this point would make mere success in your occupation a very pale and washed-out affair, indeed.[10]

God takes the affairs of family life very seriously—serious in relationship to the children looking up, as it were; serious in relation to the parents looking down.

In Matthew 15, Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they said that the money that they should have been giving to their moms and dads to look after them in their old age they were giving to the Lord, and so they said, “We cannot give to you because we give to the Lord.” And Jesus said, “Cut the nonsense out. You’re setting your traditions above the requirements of the law. Don’t you even know the Ten Commandments? You’re the lawgivers. ‘Honor your father and mother that your days may go well upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.’ And don’t give me any of this tomfoolery about you had to nestle it away in the affairs of the temple.”[11]

So, you see, it’s very practical. The authority of Scripture in relationship to family life has something to say at every point. What does it have to say, then, primarily to children? And then, finally, what does it have to say primarily to parents?

God’s Word to Children

Well, Proverbs is full of the instruction that is contained in Deuteronomy 5. We can’t read it all, but let’s turn to one verse, and some of you as youngsters ought to take notes. You ought to write this in the flyleaf of your Bible, because it’ll be very, very important to you. Proverbs 23:22: “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” “But I don’t feel like it!” We didn’t ask you how you felt. “I don’t want to.” Don’t be disobedient. “I don’t like the implications.” “I’m not interested,” says God. This is not an option; this is an obligation. If we’re going to obey God in relationship to the responsibilities within our home, then we pay heed to our dads, and we don’t despise our moms.

If we’re going to fulfill this obligation, what is involved? Well, it involves real love. It involves real love—not slushy stuff, not sentimental stuff, not 364 days of disobedience and then a Mother’s Day card. Genuine love, genuine affection. The kind of expression that you find in Genesis 46, when Joseph links up with his dad after a period of absence—one of the most moving pictures in the book of Genesis. All dads can identify with this—Genesis 46:28: “Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. [And] when they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel.” He got his car ready, as it were, in twentieth-century terms. He got it cleaned up. He got it shined up. He got it gassed up. He got it ready. Because he was going to use that for one express purpose: he was going to see his dad. And when he “appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and [he] wept for a long time.”

There is no son ever able to do this without that the years of togetherness and the years of separation have built into life that which will make such an embrace possible. If you have any doubt about the standard relationship that is increasingly par for the course in our Western world, listen to Phil Collins and Genesis’s most recent song concerning fathers, with the constant refrain, “You’re no son [of mine], you’re no son of mine,”[12] and how he tells that he went back after a period of elapse; he would go back and see if his dad really was the way he thought he was. And as he went in the door, his father greeted him always with the same refrain: “You’re no son of mine.”

Loved ones, that doesn’t happen in a moment. That doesn’t happen in an instant. Good relationships between dads and boys are forged in the experience of life, in the incidentals of life, in the margins of life, in the apparent trivialities of life. And life goes by awful quick, does it not? Quickly, I mean.

It involves real love. So often, adolescence has a problem with this, doesn’t it? “I’m not kissing my dad. Heck, I’m not even kissing my mother—not if anybody’s around, at least. I mean, I’ll kiss somebody else’s mom, but I’m not kissing my mom. I mean, ’cause after all, I mean, look at my mom.” And all the other kids are coming around going, “You know, your mom is so cool. I love your mom.” “Oh, you do? I like your mom! You want to trade?” I mean, is it… Genuine love gets through all of that. You’ll get through it if you’re in it. It’ll come around. Don’t go crazy, moms. Don’t do all that lovey-dovey stuff on the high street. It really is a big major turn off. They’ll come around. They’ll be there.

It involves real love. It involves real obedience. Real obedience—not simply external frameworks, not just keeping true to the guidelines, but an internal attitude. Obedience starts inside. Obedience is not outside. Genuine obedience conveyed on the outside is simply the expression of heart attitude. Like the wee boy driving in the car with his mom: His mom says, “Sit down, Johnny.” He says, “No.” “Sit down.” “No.” “Sit down.” “No.” Finally she takes him, pulls in, sits him right down, and drives off. And as she drives off, he turns to her and he says, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.” And genuine obedience is sitting down on the outside and on the inside. And that’s what’s involved in honoring your father and your mother. It’s about a heart attitude. It’s not going up to your bedroom and kicking the door and closing the door and saying, “Fine, I obeyed,” but it is heart attitude.

Only God can constrain that. Only the Scriptures can underpin that. It demands total honesty. Total honesty. It demands saying what you were saying, when you were saying, and why you were saying it. It demands saying, “Yes, there was a phone call,” “No, there wasn’t a phone call.” No fudge factor. There are no degrees in honesty. There are no degrees in honesty. It’s either honest or it’s a lie; there is no in between. “Were you there? Yes or no? Don’t give me a bunch of junk.” “Did you leave at eleven? Yes or no?” “Are you planning to come home, or are you giving me a line?” Real obedience in the honoring of father and mother demands total honesty and demands a preparedness to accept the responsibilities of what it will mean to break the rules.

Jesus in his humanity, Luke records for us in 2:51, after the encounter in the temple—you remember where his earthly parents lost him and had to go back and find him, and he told them, you know, “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?”[13] and they didn’t understand? Then Luke 2:51: “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” An interesting little statement! What do we know about Jesus? We know he was obedient to his mom and dad. The incarnate God did what his carpenter father told him. The boy who could walk on water was in when he was told.

It demands real love, it demands real obedience, and it involves continued concern for them. We’re talking about “What does it mean for children to honor their parents?” To really love, to really obey, and to really care, irrespective of how much time has elapsed, irrespective of whether we now are the parents of our own children. To honor our father and mother demands that kind of continued care.

Nursing homes and geriatric wards hold many sad stories of loneliness. Many. It’s referred to in Britain, in the geriatric wards, as “granny dumping.” Having spent many years visiting people in that context, just recently back in Edinburgh as I drove down the Royal Mile and I thought of Queensberry House on my right, I could think of the names and faces of people that I had visited between ’75 and ’77—old ladies just all alone in a high crib bed with metal sides, day after day. Now, in some cases they had no one to care, and those places are lovely and helpful, and the people who preside over them by and large are lovely folks. What I’m talking about is just those who would determine that that was it, you know?

Incidentally, parents, the thought occurred to me that we’d better be careful that we don’t reap what we sow. Because if we determine that the way to deal with our children is to continually babysit them, so that we pay money to have somebody else look after them so that we can go and have fun, we better watch out in case they learn from that example and say, “Hey, you did it to me when I was three, so don’t feel bad that I’m doing it to you now that you’re seventy-six. You see, you taught me this approach, Dad. You used to always say, ‘The babysitter will take care of you. Now your mom and I are leaving.’ Well, here’s the deal: Guess what? The babysitter will take care of you, Dad. And now your son and daughter are leaving. So pull up the sides of the crib, don’t be bad for the people who are looking after you, and don’t worry; we’ll be back.”

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.” It demands real love, demands real obedience, demands realistic concern.

God’s Word to Parents

Now, let me wrap this up by just saying a word to parents—because I really wanted to speak to the youngsters; I hope you’re listening. What does it have to say to parents?

Hoover—that is, J. Edgar Hoover, who should be quoted sparingly, I believe—on one occasion said, “There is but one way to eliminate juvenile delinquency, and that is by providing each child with competent parents.” Joseph Kennedy—the daddy of them all, as it were—said in a biography that I read, “My boys are my business. No comment.” And so, when you turn to the corresponding instruction in the New Testament, which takes you into Ephesians chapter 6, where Paul, quoting from the Ten Commandments, underscores the abiding relevance of family living and the principles of it—quotes it directly—he then goes on to explain that if fathers are going to take their lead in this, then they’re going to have to make sure that they don’t exasperate their children.[14] No dad worth his salt exasperates his children deliberately, but there is a danger of unwittingly provoking and embittering our children. Unwittingly provoking and embittering our children. How can you do it? Well, there’s tons of ways to do it.

Parents have the responsibility to bring their children up, to cherish them fondly, to rear them tenderly, to sustain them spiritually, to deal with them individually.

First of all, you can do it by failing to allow them to be what they are—namely, children. That’ll annoy them. Kids are really silly. Have you noticed that? Say really silly things at really unfortunate times and have really silly ideas. Do you hear these parents talking to their children—little kids—laying down the premise and the sub-premise and then the synthesis and then the conclusion? And the kid’s just going… You know? I mean, they just… “Now, little Mary, don’t you understand that Daddy said that such and such, and that when we came to there and the da-da-da…” You know? The kids are going, “What?” Why would you talk to your children as if they were adults? They’re not adults! And then the people that talk to their kids like that, they talk to their dogs like that—but that’s another sermon altogether, you know.

So, failing to allow them to be what they are—namely, children. Treating them with harshness and cruelty, either verbal or physical. Ridiculing them in front of other people, especially their peers. Showing favoritism and making unhelpful comparisons between them and their siblings. Failing to express approval for them, even when they do little things that are apparently trivial that demand commendation. Being arbitrary in the way we exercise discipline, so that our children never know where they stand. Neglecting them, making them feel like an intrusion. Seeking to make them achieve our goals rather than to find their own way and develop their own little lives. By overprotecting them. By never protecting them at all. All those things and many more; we may by means of them unwittingly provoke and embitter our children, and Paul says, “Be careful that you don’t do that.”

Well, what should we do? Well, he says you should “bring them up.” “Bring them up.” We’re supposed to “bring them up.” Every so often you hear about somebody: “I brought up myself.” You know, you have the picture of the Artful Dodger on Oliver Twist, who, along with Fagin, really brought himself up. Parents have the responsibility to bring their children up, to cherish them fondly, to rear them tenderly, to sustain them spiritually, to deal with them individually. The more I grow, the more I realize that there is no standard pattern. You can’t deal necessarily with one child in the identical way that you deal with another. So, there is the bringing up.

The bringing up demands training. The word is paideía: “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Training has to do with what we do. You’ll find the word in Hebrews chapter 12. It has to do with rules; it has to do with regulations, with rewards, and with punishments. The Bible is very clear in relationship to this. The egalitarianism that pervades so much of our educational system certainly does not come from Scripture. The notion that our children will somehow just manage by themselves is really a strange idea. And yet, writing in an earlier generation, E. K. Simpson said,

Too many parents nowadays foster the latent mischief by a policy of laissez faire, pampering their pert [little] urchins like pet monkeys whose escapades furnish a fund of amusement as irresponsible freaks of no serious import. Such unbridled young scamps, for lack of correction, develop too often into headstrong, peevish, self-seeking characters, menaces to the community where they dwell, and the blame rests with their [weak-willed] and duty-shirking seniors.[15]

So when we think in terms of training, what we’re thinking of, again, is what the book of Proverbs has so much to say about. Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Proverbs 22:15: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” The liberal culture in which we live has labored hard to suggest that any notion of this kind of thing is brutal and is devastating and is denigrating and is demeaning and so on and so on—so that as I listened to the snippets of that thing to which I referred earlier on Monday morning, as I listened to those ladies talk, every one of them without exception was at pains to say, “Oh, I’d never take my hand to my child. I’d never just go over to the games department and get myself a little Ping-Pong paddle, you know. No, no.” If they will not go and get themselves a Ping-Pong paddle at that stage, when they’ve got them in the cart, they will not be able to correct it with a baseball bat when they’re driving around in the cart.

The Bible is really clear. Do you say you believe in the authority of the Bible? Then does the authority of the Bible impact the way you rear your children, the way I rear my children? Children are foolish. There are times when the only thing to be able to do is to take action. The danger, of course, is of extremism—to be excessively stern—or the other extreme: for this kind of thing to be totally absent.

Now, let me finalize this by pointing out that we don’t only train them, but we instruct them. Training has to do with what we do. Instruction has to do with what we say. What we say. Beware of nondirective nonsense. I’m growing old listening to parents tell me that because they had such and such an upbringing, they don’t want to give directions to their children, so they’re just going to let them choose. Don’t let’s do that. It’s really not right. Going to let them choose what movies they go to? Going to allow them to choose what videos they bring home? Going to allow them to choose just whoever they date?

If my mother and father had not been so directive in terms of the dating game, there’s no way that I would be married to the lovely lady I’m married today. Do you think I’m smart enough to be able to choose someone like my wife? No, you don’t; see, you laughed. I threw more guys out of my house who had interest in my sisters, threw roses in the bin, told my sisters, “I know that fellow. I play rugby with him. I can tell you what he likes. Get him out of here.” The parental responsibility is much the same. Children need that. Children need you to be prepared to take the rap for them. They need you to blame. Because when they go to school and the people say, “Well, why aren’t you coming?” they need somebody to blame. Till they’re ready to be brave enough to take the hit themselves, they need to be able to say, “My mom and dad won’t let me!”—until they’re smart enough or conviction-filled enough to be able to say, “Because I don’t want to.” But until the day they’re able to say, “I don’t want to,” they need somebody to blame it on. And that’s your role. But if you’re not prepared to take the blame, you will, and I will, take the results of being unprepared for that kind of conviction-filled parenting. The evidence is all around us to see: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Let me finish with a quote in a conversation between Thelwall and Coleridge—S. D. Coleridge, that is. Thelwall told Coleridge that he thought it very unfair to give a child’s mind a certain bent before it could choose for itself. We hear this all the time: “I don’t believe in indoctrinating my children. I don’t believe in influencing them in these things.” So Thelwall says to Coleridge the very same thing: “Don’t try and guide your children in these ways.” “I showed him my garden,” says Coleridge, “covered with weeds, describing it as a botanical garden. ‘How so?’ Thelwall asked. I replied that it had not yet come to years of discretion. True, the weeds had taken the mean advantage of growing everywhere, but I could not be so unfair as to prejudice the soil in favor of roses and strawberries.”[16]

All of us at some point can make application of this. Those of us who are parents need to teach the values of truth and goodness. We need to defend them, we need to recommend them, we need to enforce them, and then we need to trust our children with them. We cannot be held ultimately accountable for the response of our children, but we will be held accountable for our instruction of our children and for the guidelines that we set. And we must do it in such a way as to show our children that behind us stands the Lord himself. He is the ultimate instructor. He is the ultimate guide. And when it is all said and done, the privilege and honor and duty which is ours is to seek to be able to bring the heart of our children to the heart of our Savior.

Let us bow together in prayer.

As we bow in prayer, we make our own response to these things. One father summed it up in this way:

My family’s all grown; the kids are all gone. But if I had to do it all over again, this is what I would do: I would love my wife more in front of my children. I would laugh with my children more—at our mistakes and our joys. I would listen more, even to the youngest child. I would be more honest about my own weaknesses and stop pretending perfection. I would pray differently for my family; instead of focusing on them, I would focus more on me. I would do more things with my children. I would do more encouraging and bestow more praise. I would pay more attention to little things, deeds and words of love and kindness. Finally, if I had to do it all over again, I would share God more intimately with my family. I would use every ordinary thing that happened in every ordinary day to point them to God.

Father, affirm within our hearts these convictions where they’re present. Instill them where they are absent. Convince us of the intense practicality of the absolute authority of the sixty-six books that make up your living Word, the Bible. Make us brave but not bombastic. Make us decisive but not divisive. Make us clear but not cruel. Make us Christlike.

And may grace and mercy and peace from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—triune God—rest upon and remain with our families, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Deuteronomy 6:1 (NIV 1984).

[2] Jill Tweedie, “When Marriage Is Just a Cage,” The Guardian, 1976. Paraphrased.

[3] Genesis 2:23–24 (NIV 1984).

[4] Genesis 3:21 (NVI 1984).

[5] Melanie Safka, “I Don’t Eat Animals” (1972).

[6] See Exodus 21:12–16.

[7] 1 Samuel 3:5–9 (paraphrased).

[8] 1 Samuel 3:13 (NIV 1984).

[9] 1 Samuel 3:13 (NIV 1984).

[10] James C. Dobson,Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives(Waco: Word, 1984), 49.

[11] Matthew 15:3–6 (paraphrased).

[12] Phil Collins, “No Son of Mine” (1991).

[13] Luke 2:49 (paraphrased).

[14] See Ephesians 6:4.

[15] E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 136.

[16] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, July 27, 1830. Paraphrased.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.