Parenting: What is our Chief Aim?
by Pastor Jim Essian
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
First, let us see to what end our parenting is aiming and take a closer look at the key that unlocks this verse: “. . . of the Lord.”
The Apostle Paul does not mince words here, he doesn’t leave us with any options; it is the father’s job to pastor and teach his children in the ways of Jesus. This would have been an enormously profound statement to his Ephesian readers, as it will be for us.
“The Jews knew what the discipline and instruction of the rabbis looked like. The Greeks knew the discipline and instruction of the philosophers. But the discipline and instruction of the Lord? Of Jesus? What was that?”
The teaching of the rabbis (the Law) or the Greek philosophers (ethics) is not what is tempting us, per se, but their principles have seeped into our American, Western, and even church cultures. “Be a good girl,” is far more ethic-based than grace-based, nor is it of the Lord. Math and science, as taught in most schools, has nothing to do with the person and work of Jesus . . .but it does!
The “end” or goal of our parenting is not to raise “good” kids who are valued members of society, or even theologically astute, potentially midget Pharisees. Rather, our hope should be to raise worshipers of Jesus! John Piper said, “Our aim as parents is not merely to stock our kid’s heads with knowledge about God, but to inspire our kid’s hearts to worship God.” How does the good news of the Gospel of Jesus—His person (who He is) and work (what He has done)—inform our parenting? As examples, consider His work in creation, His incarnation, and the power of the Resurrection and its implications:
Creation: The work of Christ in creation is meant to stir us to worship Him (Ps. 19:1). When Jesus spoke the stars and oceans into existence, He wasn’t thinking, “I hope this motivates my people to not drink beer and vote Republican.” It was meant to provoke our souls to bow at His feet and to raise our hands in great praise! What if your child’s growing understanding in math and science—a knowledge of the laws and glories of the universe— pointed them to just such a response? What foundations might be set if you exclaimed and explained to your joyful three-year old Who it is that created the dogs that they love so much, or Whose idea it was to paint flowers with such diverse and beautiful colors?
Incarnation: How does the condescension of God in Christ, entering into the brokenness and sin of this world contradict and thus, correct, an evolutionary worldview that says the strong should kill off the weak? The incarnation says that the Strong became weak in order to save the weak! The implications of the incarnation lead us to teach our children that we don’t join the mockers who bully the weak (“Nice shoes, Johnny! Ha ha ha!”), but we incarnate—enter in—and defend them.
Resurrection: The physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus means that matter matters-–-the physical world is important. We do justice and mercy, we care for those in need, we serve, sacrifice, and steward because the resurrection is proof that this world matters. We should absolutely instill in our children a hope for Jesus to come back (Rev. 22:20), but not to the extent that we hide out in our Christian bunkers protecting our children from the big, bad world. Because of the resurrection and our calling to be witnesses to it (Acts 1:8), we pray that our children would have courage and boldness—not just praying for their protection—but for them to take risks for the cause of Christ.
Of course, the love of the Father demonstrated in the sacrificing of His Son on the cross (Rom. 5:8) both empowers our children and exemplifies to them how to relate with others. The revelation of God in the written Word of God is a great motivation to learn to read. Learning history shows the commonalties of fallen man and the patience of the loving Father with fallen man. Cultivating artistic skills teaches our children to image their creative Father, and on and on we could go. We pastor and parent our children in a way that leads them to a big, glorious Father to worship through the person and work of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.