Today the Table of Duties covers the section pertaining to Parents.
The Table of Duties lists this Bible passage under Parents: Ephesians six, verse four, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Some versions of the Table of Duties also add this phrase, “lest they become discouraged,” from Colossians three, verse 21.
There are two things a parent should remember about children. First, they are sinners. Second, they are a precious gift.
It is funny sometimes how parents can be surprised that their children are sinners. Somehow, they feel shock when their children do not act perfectly. Imagine that! Parents can lose patience because children do not learn everything flawlessly the first time, or if they do not obey every time, or when they are lazy, etc. How dare they be sinners!
But of course we are all sinners. Parents need to think back to when they were children. We tend to whitewash our memories regarding our behavior, so you have to do some honest soul-searching. Were you really the model child that your imagination might paint you? “Well, at least I didn’t . . .” No, you did all kinds of things that you do not even remember.
So be patient with your children. Be ready to forgive, ready to keep trying when you get frustrated. Your parents were patient with you in ways you will never even know. More than that, your heavenly Father was patient when you deserved no patience.
May we be more like Him.
In spite of their sins, children are a precious gift of God. Psalm 127 says, “Children are a gift of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is a present.” At some moments, this is abundantly clear. At other times, a parent has to struggle to remember.
The treasure that the heavenly Father places into a mother’s womb is beyond any earthly value. That He entrusts parenthood and the care of a human life to us unworthy sinners is amazing beyond belief. Why would He so honor us bumbling fools? Yet He does, and we should be filled with wonder and thankfulness.
This kind of attitude compels us to act with love and diligence for our children’s benefit. We have a duty, which we could look upon as a heavy and oppressive burden. How much better to see it as a privilege to work hard for the Lord’s little ones!
But our culture has huge problems in this area. As Americans have largely disdained marriage, they also have seen children as merely an unpleasant and repulsive curse. But this is a blasphemous way of thinking. To paraphrase what the Lord once told Saint Peter, we should not call evil what He has called a blessing.
It is hard not to be infected a little by this cultural attitude. How often do young married couples say, “We don’t want to have children yet because we want to enjoy our marriage.” - as if children bring only unhappiness and pain. Or how many couples intentionally remain childless, or limit themselves to very few children, because they see no blessing in God’s gift? May we instead see that the heavenly Father’s gift of children is fantastic and worth celebrating.
But there are extremes in each direction to avoid. Many parents express their love as pampering and permissiveness. They give children everything and allow them to do anything. There is no discipline taught, nor is the value of hard work shown. Immoral paths cannot be warned against when a child learns to pursue whatever dream is in their heart. Such twisted love is really no love at all.
Of course, parents will never be perfect, either. Who has not been a little too strict at times or too permissive? You use your best judgment, but human wisdom fails. So we must be a little forgiving towards ourselves as parents. Yet, by all means, do your best.
True love expresses itself in some things that seem terribly obvious: Feed your children. Clothe them. Give them a bed to sleep in, and a roof over their head. That seems so basic that it hardly bears mentioning. Yet what does our Lord praise as things done to Him? Clothing, feeding, and giving something to drink. Tending them when they are sick. Christ does not ask for super extraordinary good works. Do simple things that benefit your children. For these plain actions, the Lord is overjoyed.
Even more importantly, parents should see that the eternal needs of children are met. Parents often seem to do little or nothing for their children, spiritually speaking. Or they say, “I want to wait until they can make their own choices,” whatever that means. You do not wait until children tell you what their favorite food is before you feed them. You do not wait for them to give consent before you get them medical attention. Choice has nothing to do with it! You are parents who have the God-given duty to provide for children. Give them what is good, regardless of the child’s feelings on the matter.
Fortunately, the heavenly Father has provided a Font where forgiveness and life are poured out, even for little ones. Babies and adults alike receive the benefits of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in the washing of regeneration and renewal. This is not difficult. The heavenly Father has made it as simple as possible for us. On this, at least, we should have no problem.
May parents not delay coming to the Baptismal Font, as if they did not care whether their children have life and salvation. May God ignite love in the parents’ hearts so that they quickly bring their little ones to God’s washing.
After that, parents should teach their children various spiritual truths. One is the need for prayer. It is easy to teach children to pray in a simple way.
More complex teaching can follow. Parents must teach their children at least the basic teachings of the Christian faith. If we do not know what those are, we have a fine Catechism that includes all the main doctrines of the Bible. Many parents want to leave spiritual teaching to the pastor or other so-called “professional” teachers. But Scripture does not allow parents to shirk their duty to teach their children. Saint Paul says, “Parents, bring up your children in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Moses says, “These words that I am commanding you today you shall take to heart, and you shall teach them to your children.” And there are other passages like these.
If the command of God or the love of children does not compel us, then perhaps we should consider how much better the world would be if more children were raised in the truth of Scripture. But sadly, there are many wayward children out there who never learned the way of love taught in God’s commandments, nor the wisdom of humility, repentance, and selflessness. Instead, it seems that the opposite values of pride and selfishness are being taught, and look what a mess the world is!
Of course, examples are set by actions as well as words. Children notice when you do wrong. Although you cannot make every word and deed absolutely spotless, we should try our hardest. When we fail, we should show our children our godly shame, and ask for forgiveness when appropriate. So also, we should be quick to forgive our children when they are sorrowful for their actions, while at the same time not become permissive.
It is especially damaging when parents are at each other’s throats, constantly arguing and tearing at each other with their words. At the same time, they are also unknowingly tearing at their children’s hearts.
The best example of all is set when parents take their children to worship. This is difficult and takes much time, effort, and frustration. If children see how much parents value the Gospel, then they will learn to value it. Fathers especially have this responsibility, and they can do much good or much harm depending on how faithfully they attend God’s house.
So if you work as hard as you can, and act with discernment and wisdom, and avoid leading your children astray by sinful behavior, then your children will turn out just fine, right? Well, maybe. Here is the problem. Even when parents are good, righteous, and faithful, and do all they can, some children will turn away from the good path. Adam’s son Cain became the first murderer. Noah’s son Ham was wicked. Abraham had Ishamael, and Isaac had Esau. David’s sons Amnon, Absalm, and Adonijah followed twisted paths.
Sometimes, satan finds a way to get at children even though you do your best. This sad reality shows us that we do not have all control over everything. So we must pray fervently for our children and commend them to the hands of the loving, heavenly Father.
I have not mentioned abusive parents. That this is evil is so obvious that it does not need much dwelling upon it. But let us at least say that it is a horrendous evil to discipline children too often or with too much harshness. Also some parents are negligent, perhaps feeding children nothing but cheap junk food without a thought for their health. Some are seemingly unwilling to lift a finger to help their children.
The goal for parents should be neither too harsh nor too gentle; neither too coddling nor too negligent. There is a wise moderation that balances all things. We cannot do this perfectly, but God grant us as much success as He wills as we try our best.
In His Name, the only loving Father. Amen.
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