Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long in the land. (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Children should be taught these things — they should be taught to obey. That strong self-centered depravity has to be harnessed, and obedience is the key to that.
This is so serious to God. Listen to what it says in Exodus 21:15-17:
And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
God knows that there is no way to perpetuate righteousness in a family unless there is obedience. And it is so serious that He commands Israel in the Old Testament, “If you have any child that won’t obey, kill him.” Disobedience and disrespect were punishable at that time by death. That is how serious an issue this is.
Obviously, God in His mercy and His grace, at this time in redemptive history, does not repeat this command of capital punishment in the New Testament. We are under no such command in regard to our children. But the preservation of His law was serious enough at the beginning of the nation of Israel’s history for Him to give this command.
You can’t pass on righteousness to a generation, you can’t have a society that controls itself, you can’t have anything that is ordered unless you have people who have learned submission, obedience, and self-control.
When you teach your children to obey, you teach them self-control. You teach them how to repress their depravity and win the victory over their sinful impulses. It’s the only hope for society. It’s the only hope for the preservation of righteousness. It’s the only hope for the truth of God to be passed on: an obedient generation of children.
Now, look at the Book of Proverbs. It is the heart of how parents should teach their children.
Hear, my son, your father’s discipline
And do not abandon your mother’s instruction;
For they are a garland of grace for your head
And ornaments about your neck. (Proverbs 1:8-9)
You know what that means? They make you a beautiful person. They make you a gracious person. They will bless you. Listen to what your father and mother teach you.
My son, if you will receive my words
And treasure my commandments within you,
To make your ear pay attention to wisdom,
Incline your heart to discernment. (Proverbs 2:1-2)
My son, do not forget my law,
But let your heart guard my commandments;
For length of days and years of life
And peace they will add to you.
Do not let lovingkindness and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 3:1-3)
In other words, listen to what I tell you, wrap it around your body, and live it out in every area of your life.
Hear, O sons, the discipline of a father,
And pay attention that you may know understanding,
For I give you sound learning;
Do not forsake my instruction.
When I was a son to my father,
Tender and the only son before my mother,
Then he instructed me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
Keep my commandments and live.” (Proverbs 4:1-4)
Now, these are some samples of how we are to instruct our children, and how our children are to respond. Go to Proverbs 30 and you see the opposite:
There is a generation that curses its father
And does not bless its mother.
There is a generation that is clean in its own eyes,
Yet is not washed from its filthiness.
There is a generation—oh how haughty are its eyes!
And its eyelids are lifted up.
There is a generation whose teeth are like swords
And its fangs like knives,
To devour the afflicted from the earth
And the needy from among men. (Proverbs 30:11-14)
That’s so typical of children who are rebellious against their parents. They’ve got their own way, their own wisdom, their own approach to everything; you’re not going to tell them what to do. They think they’ve got all the answers, and the fact is they’ve never been washed from their filthiness.
This is the proud, selfish, self-centered, rebellious child who listens to nothing that his parents say. They’re unkind, merciless, and brutal. They’ve never been taught kindness. They haven’t been taught the graces that make them loving people.
And what is God’s response?
The eye that mocks a father
And despises obedience to a mother,
The ravens of the valley will pick it out,
And the young eagles will eat it. (Proverbs 30:17)
When a child doesn’t get discipline and training about obedience, in the end he is going to feel the judgment of God.
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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