When the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives parenting instruction, it’s just one sentence:
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
What is parenting? It’s very simple, really: loving your children so that they’re not angry with you and bringing them up to know the Lord. You might think that there would be a whole book on parenting, or there might be a whole chapter on it, but there’s just one verse because the task is so highly defined.
These two instructions must be understood, and we’ll endeavor to do that. But how wonderful that the whole responsibility can be refined down to one statement!
In spite of the simplicity of the instruction, parents today appear to be somewhat frightened about the whole prospect. They are challenged by the times in which we live, the issues at hand, and some of them look at parenting as a frightening responsibility. And it is, to some degree, a serious and challenging task — but not for the reasons that most people might suggest.
If you surveyed people, they might tell you that they have some reluctance about having children because it’s expensive. You have to have a bigger house and a bigger car. You have to get a lot of extra clothes and food, and you have to pay for medical needs and college.
They might say it’s also very time consuming. If you have any personal goals, desires or plans, they take a back seat to the demands of children. They are highly demanding. And while we might think that that extremely demanding time is only in infancy, as they grow older we find the demands actually increase and become more and more complex.
Some people would say parenting is challenging because it calls for such focus on children’s activities. In other words, there are so many things that you’re supposed to be involved in that you wind up spending time and energy in running that endless taxi service to meet all their needs.
And I suppose there are those superficial things which make parenting challenging. But the real challenge before us can be boiled down to two components. And I think we need to understand these if we are going to love our children in such a way that they aren’t angry with us but rather return that love, and if we are to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
If we are to do that, we must understand that the difficulty really comes in two areas, and we can reduce them to an external component and an internal component. The external is the pressure of the culture around us. The internal is the pressure of the nature within the child.
Parenting is not difficult because it is expensive. It’s not difficult because it’s time consuming. It’s not difficult because it’s distracting from your personal agenda. It’s not difficult because of the complexities of meeting all of their demands. It is really difficult because there are such heavy pressures from the society around us and heavier pressures from the nature of children within them. And until we understand that, we’re not going to understand what parenting is really all about.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1996, titled “God’s Pattern for Parents, Part 1.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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