On the responsibility of parents for their children before God

Reflections on Ephesians 6:1-9.

Some of the memories I have of childhood are from the primary Sunday school class. My mother was the teacher for most of what I can remember, though there were some other teachers in later years. I obviously benefited from what I was taught in those early classes, and I still draw on the knowledge that was imparted to me there.

One of the unique things about my childhood Sunday school class, perhaps not so unique when compared with many other classes of the time, was the flannel board. Do you remember the flannel board? I’m not sure if they are still in use these days in our high tech world when we seem to prefer moving pictures over anything else, but the flannel board seemed high tech in the ’70s and ’80s, at least to a small child.

It seemed a bit like magic how Moses and the entire Hebrew people could walk across the wilderness right in front of the class, passing through water without getting wet. Flannel board Jesus turned those water into wine before our eyes, and it was almost as miraculous as when the real Jesus did it. And, of course, in my little country Pentecostal church, we were pretty sure we could feel the heat from the paper tongues of fire that appeared on the disciples’ heads as they tarried in the upper room.

Flannel boards and the like have their usefulness as tools for instruction. Yet, they can’t convey the fullness of the faith. Two-dimensional Jesus can’t really turn water into wine. Even though the fall of flannel board Eutychus from a third story window might help press home the image of how dangerous it is to sleep during the sermon, what I really learned wasn’t bound in the paper images of Bible characters. Instead, my learning was necessarily bound with my mother’s heart. My learning was tied with how my mother treated the Scriptures. She believed in them. She knew they were alive. These stories she told me weren’t from the Brothers Grimm collection. They were history; they were moral instruction; but they were also real–they are also real.

Parents are entrusted by the Lord with a special responsibility for their children. The Lord gives parents children as a blessing, a blessing of great joy. In so giving, he requires the parents to care for their children, and not only physically and emotionally, but also spiritually. Parents bear responsibility for their children before God.

Parents bear responsibility to teach children how not to be conformed to the world. We do this with structure and discipline. We do it with mercy and compassion. We do it with a firm but gentle hand. In teaching them, with both words and deeds, our goal is to help them have renewed minds, not minds that are shaped by the world, the flesh, and the devil. A parent’s example of life is his foremost tool in so shaping his children in the image of Christ.

Does your example convey how sincerely you hold the faith? Doubtless it does, whether you intend it so or not. The Proverbs exhort us to disregard the fool because imitating him leads to folly. The Proverbs also exhort us to pay close attention to the fool so we will know what behavior not to imitate. All of us, living in the fallen world and tainted by sin, will continue to make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes. Yet, through confession and God’s forgiveness, we can still provide a worthwhile example to our children. When they see that we acknowledge our sins and are sincere in our repentance, they’ll understand all the more how we are sincere in our devotion. We can show them that it is only the fool who, having stumbled, goes on his way without dealing with the stumblingblock.

What is our goal? Toward what end are we nurturing and teaching children? It is, of course, to teach them what is their “reasonable service”. We are to show them how to be living sacrifices: to be holy and acceptable to God. We teach them how to emulate Christ so that the Father in heaven might receive honor. We instruct them in righteousness, teaching them that we are not our own, but we belong to God; that we do not live and die to ourselves, but that we live and move and breathe because God himself wills it; that all we say and do in life is either honoring or dishonoring his holy name.

We teach them that man does not come to God on his own terms. While the tenets of postmodernism suggests that man can create his own world, do his own thing, please himself, the worldview of the Christian mandates that we bring pleasure to the Lord. We are to teach them, to show them, to lead them, and to equip them so that, in the end, when they think and do for themselves, they may “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”.

As the Lord does with his children, we are to gather these chicks under our wings, saying, “Come, ye children, and hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34:11).

Gathered around the kitchen table with her six children, my mother read to us the words of Scripture before sending us off to school each morning. I’ll probably forget many things about my early years, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing the Psalms and the Proverbs and other passages of the Bible being read at that table. Sometimes, my mother read; at other times, she’d have us read. Sometimes, my mother would pray, and at other times, she’d have each of us offer a petition.

Teaching children to read and meditate on the Scriptures and teaching them how to pray: these are duties of parents. In some moments, children are intrigued and inspired by what they hear; at other times, they may find it more difficult to concentrate and understand. At all times, they are observing us, learning from us. They will know if we believe, and because we believe, they may understand that what we teach is real and begin to take it for their own.

May we teach and exhort our children, as St. Paul did with Timothy (2 Timothy 3:14-17),

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

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