Even after 40-plus years in ministry and having raised three children, I still feel unqualified to give advice to parents when it comes to rearing their children. Yet, perhaps I might say with Paul, “I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 7:25)
As a pastor, it is my greatest joy to see children grow up in church and then to go on to serve the Lord as an adult. I concur with the apostle John who said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4) So, allow me to offer a word of wisdom concerning bringing up children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
Lesson #1: You Can’t Always Have What You Want
The first lesson every child must learn is that they cannot have their own way. The reason this is so vital is simply because our own way is the wrong way. Sin, in its essence, is selfishness. Our fallen condition manifests in a stubbornness toward God and authority. This is why, after the fall in Genesis 3, the Lord reinforced the structure of authority for the family.
He warned Eve that her desire would be “contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16) God didn’t do this to punish them but to protect them from their own way. Structures of authority, whether in the home, the government, or the church are established by God as safe zones.
There are many verses in Scripture that warn us of the danger of our own way. The following verses are just a smidgen of those [emphasis mine]:
Lesson #2: Establish and Enforce Boundaries
As a parent, you’ve been given the responsibility of establishing boundaries for your children. You will also have to enforce those boundaries because they will be tested. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child.” (Proverbs 22:15) Failure to do this will set your child on the path to destruction. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) I cannot stress enough how important it is that junior learns early one that he cannot have his own way. When it comes to a battle of wills, parents will lose to the detriment of their child. You must conquer their will through loving, consistent discipline.
Lesson #3: Theology Matters
At the root of this view is theology—what you believe about God. We are made in God’s image, but the fall of man has left us all sinners. C.S. Lewis said it well, “Man isn’t just an imperfect being who needs improvement. He’s a rebel who must lay down his arms.” Of course, a secular world will totally disregard such a notion as anachronistic, irrelevant, and even stupid.
“Man isn’t just an imperfect being who needs improvement. He’s a rebel who must lay down his arms.” – C.S. Lewis
Yet, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it doesn’t take a genius to see the folly of the secular perspective. Go out and watch how parents interact in public with their offspring. We’ve all seen and heard the screaming child manipulating a forlorn parent in the mall or grocery store, while insisting to have its own way.
The Apostle Paul described the last days as a time characterized by disobedience to parents. If you are a Christian parent, ask yourself what has most influenced the way you’re raising your child: the culture or the Scriptures? The culture glorifies our “own way” and encourages self-expression, while God’s way calls for restraint and discipline. Believers need to understand that a life lived its own way leads to so much pain and sorrow, either in this life or the one to come.