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Have you observed that many controversies in our culture revolve around family and children? Hot-button topics include gender identity; medical decisions regarding children; a school’s responsibility to notify parents regarding what gender, pronouns, or name children choose to use; and what bathrooms or locker rooms children should be allowed to use.
It is not surprising that the family and children are arenas where the rapidly shifting values of our culture are being played out. These challenges to family life and raising children provide an opportunity for the body of Christ. It is hard to imagine a more powerful apologetic for Christian faith than well-ordered families with productive, happy children.
Several elements of the beauty of Christian faith, when lived out, will be a witness to the watching world.
Teaching children to live joyfully under authority is a foundational lesson. God promises rich blessing as children honor and obey father and mother. It goes well with them and they enjoy long life (Eph. 6:1–3). As parents, we must make a persuasive case for living under authority. So we remind our children that there is a God in heaven who is good. In great love, He has put them in a family. He has given them parents who love them. To honor and obey father and mother is a blessing. This truth is not taught through demands and threats. It is learned as the beauty and goodness of God’s ways are held out for our children in family life.
Most parenting advice focuses on how to get kids to do what you want them to do. The advice given is behaviorism—how to manage and control what children say and do. Biblical parenting, however, begins with the truth that all behavior is heart-driven. It is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). The heart must be diligently guarded because it is the well-spring of life (Prov. 4:23). Christian parents are not concerned merely with incentives and disincentives to manage behavior, but they also want children to understand the heart issues that motivate behavior. Help your children understand their attitudes of heart. Pride versus humility, anger versus peacemaking, covetousness versus generosity, love of self versus love for others—these are all a priority for nurturing our children. Christian parents who help their children understand their motivations can stand in solidarity with their children. Every parent knows how selfishness works in the human heart. We know how to bring those sinful motives to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing. We must model gospel humility of repentance and faith for our children. Managing our children through behaviorism does not require the hope and power of the gospel. But helping children understand their heart motivations naturally leads to the cross, the need for forgiveness, and the grace and empowerment of the gospel promises.
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 teaches the importance of stewardship and accountability. The master entrusted his servants with his property and went on a long journey. Upon his return, he settled accounts with his servants in the expectation that they had profitably invested what was entrusted to them. This story is a wonderful lesson to impress on our children. God had entrusted them with gifts, abilities, and opportunities. They are stewards of what the Master has entrusted to them. This understanding of stewardship must be woven into the fabric of everyday life. God has entrusted us with treasure and looks for a return on His investment. Helping children understand these things helps them to live with wisdom—to take themselves and their choices seriously.
I remember teaching the catechism to my children: “Q. Who made you? A. God made me. Q. Why did God make you and all things? A. For his own glory.” The Bible begins with all we need to know and to understand about life: “In the beginning, God.” Not only was everything that we experience made by God; it was made for His glory. The entire created order and all its variegated glories exist to point to a greater glory—the magnificent and eternal glory of God. In our sinfulness, we ignore the God for whose glory we were made and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator. In the Christian family, we point our children to the glorious One. His wonders orient and give meaning to life. Life is not all about me but is about God’s transcendent truth. Children who embrace this truth will live with a sense of dignity and purpose that is appropriate to creatures made in the image of God.
My wife and I recently had a conversation with a young physician and his wife who were intrigued by the training and nurture that a Christian family in their neighborhood provided for their children. Much of our conversation revolved around the values they saw reflected in these children and how those values had been instilled by faithful parents. The interaction with this couple caused me to reflect on the powerful ways that the gospel is preached when our children understand the goodness of living under authority, the nurturing insight of understanding their hearts and motivations, the humility of seeing oneself as a steward of gifts from God, and living for someone larger than ourselves.
As Christians, we provide this training in obedience to what God called us to do. The apologetic implications and the opportunities of witness are not the goal; they are simply a by-product of providing this foundational Christian training for our children. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father” (Matt. 5:16).