Children are Adults-in-Training.
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Paul encourages children to obey their parents. The rebellion started when Adam rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. It continues today with children. No one is immune, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The fallen nature of man gives us a presence of mind to think that we know better than our elders. And although information is abundant, and children see themselves learning much faster than their parents, the lack of depth and breadth of knowledge, coupled with inexperience, growing brains, and raging hormones, yields a perfect storm that blinds them to the value of wisdom. And in today’s generation, how a person feels is more important than facts, and held to be more valid than critical thought and sound judgement. This further witnesses to the need for children to listen to and honor their parents.
Children who honor their parents bring great glory to God. It shows that they are fulfilling their designated role, and helps to display the unity of the family. Additionally, when children honor their parents, they help the learning process along by displaying self-control, learning obedience (a skill that transfers to their relationship with God), and it makes the job of the parents that much more easy. This reduces the burden on the parents and allows them to fulfill the designated roles assigned to them by God. Although children may not initially see how honoring their parents is honoring God, as they mature and their minds grow, they will be able to see the wisdom in this.
Paul indicates that a promise is attached to this Commandment, and that children benefit from doing this, rather than it being just a rule to follow. With experience comes wisdom, and the life lessons learned by children through honoring their father and mother will yield a harvest of righteousness later on. This wisdom will assist them in making decisions that will have a positive impact not only in their lives, but in the lives of people with whom they interact.
If parents attempt to impart wisdom in financial matters to their children, and the children honored them by following the examples provided, even if they didn’t necessarily understand why they were doing what they were doing, the results from that would speak for themselves, and show the wisdom of the decisions. This could include setting aside money for retirement at an early age, budgeting, using self-restraint and purchasing what they need instead of what they want. The application of restraint in this area in life would keep them from the pitfalls of debt and monetary indentured servitude. Most children cannot appreciate being debt-free, owning a house and a car, and having all of their income going into a bank account instead of living paycheck to paycheck until they are actually in that situation. The pain of self-denial and self-restraint may take years to reap a benefit.
Because fathers are wired to respect and not to love, displaying love does not come naturally to them. This can lead to conflict as they seek to impart discipline (not punishment but self-control) in their children. Paul sees the danger and warns fathers that their efforts with instruction and correction can exasperate their children. Fathers often expect that the children should learn the lessons fast and adhere to their principles immediately. When children aren’t able to (and sometimes not willing to) do this, the father’s reactions, speech, and discipline can cause a child to just want to stop listening. The child may feel that no matter what they do, it just won’t measure up.
Fathers must take great care to distinguish between a child’s true intentions – whether they are truly trying to obey their parents, or whether they are engaging in the manipulative feinting of exasperation in order to avoid discomfort in the tasks and lessons being imparted. Children are master manipulators, being instructed by the world and through the whispers of the devil as he tries to tear apart the family. It is only the Word of the Living God that can break the power of these evil influences.
And even in all of that, children have free will. Even the most dedicated, loving, and encouraging father may run up against a child that absolutely refuses to learn the lessons provided (think Oppositional Defiant Disorder). Someone with ODD doesn’t care if you punish them. They live to be in opposition to you, and everything you stand for. This is a strong-willed child who, understanding the repercussions for their reactions, would rather lose their life and liberty than to obey. The need to be in control and to throw off the yoke of authority is so strong in them that they truly would rather die than to listen. These children often become expert in the art of manipulation. They lie with a straight face, telling falsehoods to even get their parents imprisoned just so that they can be free from their authority, or anyone who would attempt to exert authority over them. Their conscience is seared, and their own personal desires justify any actions that they take. They often know the exact outcome of what their actions will have on the adults that they malign, and have no compassion towards them or their circumstances once the effects of their plans have taken effect.
Scripture provided a recourse for this in the Old Testament that many today would think harsh and possibly cast a shadow over the grace and mercy of God. This solution was needed in order to showcase that first and foremost, God is HOLY:
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.
The Trials of Training
Oh, the trials and tribulations of training a child… Especially during the teen years… It can sometimes seem like herding cats, or grasping oil in your hand – a fruitless effort. The good news is that it is not fruitless. Everything that you impart, whether the child grasps and runs with it or not, is being stored in that wonderful sponge of a brain.
Scripture also tells how they should be trained:
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Parents are not to make carbon copies of themselves. They are not to plan their child’s life from cradle to grave. Rather, they have been instructed to “train up” the child in the way they should go. This is difficult, as it requires the parents to recognize what God has placed in the child and then nurture it. These characteristics can be the polar opposition of what was in the parent. This then requires great prayer, research, submission to God, and following God’s teaching as the parent may not have any knowledge or expertise in the child’s God-given bent and abilities.
Image a family where both parents are scholars and spend most of their time reading books and watching movies. Now imagine a son who is constantly moving, and loves to jog, play football, soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, and every other conceivable sport. The parents are to encourage this in their child so that the child can fulfill what God has placed in them to glorify Himself.
If the parents just try to turn this child into an academician, the child will lose heart, and suppress what is in him to do what God has not necessarily gifted the child to do. This would require the parents to either go outside their comfort zone to be a part of their child’s life, or involving a trusted and respected mentor to help their child to excel in their strengths. In either case, training up the child in the way they should go would prove to be challenging and counter-intuitive to what they know.
A Qualifying Question
For children, let’s ask the question: Are we honoring our mother and father the way that God wants us to?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, give me strength as I walk with You today. Help me to understand my role that You have assigned to me. Regardless of my age, help me to honor my mother and father, that it would be pleasing to You and bring great glory to You. Show me the way I should go, and provide the people who are mentoring me through life the ability, knowledge, and wisdom to help me to become the person that You desire me to be. This I ask and pray in Jesus’ Name, Amen.