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How to Parent Your Children

Tom Pennington Ephesians 6:4


Well, I invite you to turn with me once last time to the Book of Ephesians. We have over the last four weeks taken a break from our study of Paul's letter to the Romans to look specifically at the issue of marriage and family. We live in a culture that doesn't encourage us to live biblical lives when it comes to our relationship with our spouses and our homes. So far, we've looked at the husband's main responsibility and priority: loving his wife. We've looked at the wife's main responsibility laid out here in Ephesians, and that is to recognize the authority God has given her husband in the leadership of the home, to follow that leadership in a respectful way. We looked last week at Ephesians 6:1 - 3, at what God has to say specifically to children.

Today, we're going to look at what God has to say to us as parents. What is our responsibility? I hope you'll listen even if you don't have children. I hope you'll listen with the mindset that says this is how God our Heavenly Father interacts with all of us. He is the perfect model of a father, and so everything we learn here about our role as parents He Himself is modeling in each of our lives. So, let's begin then to take a look at this issue of Christian parenting. Now, immediately I should tell you that there are two wrong extremes that are out there today in Christian parenting.

The first of those extremes I'll call, "The Guaranteed Outcome Approach." The guaranteed outcome approach. This view teaches that if I am diligent to teach my children the Bible and to live out a faithful Christian life before them, then God has essentially guaranteed that my child will become a Christian someday. If I make sure they're at Awana, if I make sure they learn and memorize the verses that they're supposed to memorize, if I shield them as much as humanly possible from the worldly influences around us, either by home schooling them or by putting them in a Christian school, then I will get Christian kids.

There have been programs and Christian businesses over the last 30 years that have sold these ideas to the tune of multimillions of dollars to Christian parents—like Bill Gothard's parenting materials, or Gary Ezzo's Growing Kids God's Way. Let me just warn you, always beware of any program, any teaching that promises you a guaranteed outcome or result. Now, most parents who take this sort of guaranteed approach to parenting hang their hopes on one verse in the Bible, Proverbs 22:6. "Train up a child in the way he should go, [and] ]when he is old, he will not depart from it." Now, I remember in my first-year Hebrew class in seminary translating that Proverb. Let me read it to you as it literally reads: train a child according to his way.

Now there are two possible interpretations of that Proverb. One of them is, train up a child according to his own way. That is, we should train a child toward the career path that best suits that child (his own gifts, his bent), and when he is old he'll continue to stay in that career path. That is one possible interpretation, and many commentators, or a number of commentators take that position. It is possible that the historic understanding of that verse is true, and the "his" is God. Train up a child according to God's way, and when he is old he'll not depart from it. But even if that is true, what I want you to understand is that is not an ironclad guarantee. It is a Proverb. It is a truism. There are no guarantees when it comes to parenting.

By the way, the problem with this whole view of parenting is it assumes something that's wrong. It assumes all the pitfalls for my child lie out there somewhere, and if I can shield and protect my child from those pitfalls, then he'll be OK. That's not a biblical understanding of man. That's not a biblical anthropology. The truth is, our children have fallen, sinful hearts just like their parents. And whatever we put into them, whatever we expose them to, they are interpreting that information, and they are responding to that information. They are making decisions. And here's what you have to understand. Apart from divine grace, our children will always side with their fallenness. So, that means that we need to put our emphasis elsewhere.

You see, God will not evaluate us as parents on the product we produce, because we have no control over that; instead, He will evaluate us based on our faithfulness to the mission, our obedience to the assignment God has given us. There are no perfect parents in this world. We are all fallen human beings. Redeemed, yes, but still with the flesh, still with a part of us that remains unredeemed. And therefore, we're not perfect parents. But if you are faithful to the Lord, and if you seek to do what the passage we will study today teaches you to do, you will be a good parent by God's perspective, regardless of the outcome.

The other extreme that many Christians embrace is what I would call, "The Laissez-faire Approach." This approach says, "You know what, I just don't need to sweat it. I've got them in the church, and if I just make sure they have enough of that to inoculate them, then I just don't need to worry about anything. I can just take it easy. I don't need to regulate their internet usage, care about who their friends are, lay down clear directives about music and movies and dating and all of that. They'll work it out. I mean, after all, I didn't get any of that, and I turned out all right." Sometimes this approach happens, not because the parents believe it, but simply because they're too busy, too distracted, or frankly, it's just too hard to do anything else. In this kind of home there's no intense teaching, there's no intense warning, there's no intense disciplining and discipleship. It's just laissez-faire, just live and enjoy life.

Now, both of these views of parenting are very common, and I can promise you this. Both of them are represented in this room here today. And both of them are equally wrong. As parents we must be extremely diligent in teaching and in disciplining our kids. But not because we believe it guarantees a certain result; instead, because God commands us to do it. You see, God's going to evaluate our parenting not based on the ultimate product we produce, because we can't produce a product, but on whether or not we were obedient to Him, whether we were faithful in what He called us to do in following the plan for parenting that's laid down in the Scripture. And that plan is laid down very concisely for us in a single verse in Ephesians 6. And I want you to notice, the stress in this verse is not on the outcome of parenting, but on our responsibility as parents.

Look at verse 4 of Ephesians 6, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Now why does God single out fathers? Well, as we learned from Ephesians 5, God has placed the husband, the father, as the one who is in the position of authority and leadership in the home. Dad, husbands, you are responsible before God for everything that happens in your home, and so he directs these comments at fathers. But mothers, don't relax too much, because this word, this Greek word makes it clear that this verse applies to you as well. In fact, this very same Greek word, the word for "fathers," is also used when it used plural for "parents." For example, in Hebrews 11:23, it's used of Moses' parents, same word. And so, the implication here is not just fathers, but parents.

Now, Paul breaks down our responsibility as parents into two parts. Pretty obviously, the first half of the verse is negative. The second half of the verse is positive. So, let's look first at the negative command. "Do not provoke your children to anger." Now as we sit here 2,000 years removed from Paul's writing this, it seems pretty self-evident and apparent, doesn't it? Pardon the pun. A-parent? Sorry, I couldn't resist. But in the first century it was absolutely revolutionary, because there was a law in the Roman Empire called the "patria potestas." And under the "patria potestas," a father was given the ultimate right to do whatever he wanted with his son. He had virtually full power over the life and death of his son. A father, under this law, could imprison his son, He could scourge his son. He could put his son in chains. He could force him to work in the fields. He could sell him as a slave. He could even under this law put him to death. He had more power over his son than he did over his slave.

Into that context, God says, I want you to be careful how you treat your children, and in fact, I want you to be concerned about what you do inside of them and not merely externally. Now why is that? Why do we have to respect their feelings even? What's that about? It's because our children are not our property.

Our children are little people made in the image of God. They don't belong to us. They belong to Him. He allows us to shepherd their little lives for a time. We are stewards for a short time. But they are not ours. They are His. And they're made in His image. Therefore, we must treat our children with respect and with dignity. They're not to be manipulated, exploited, crushed, humiliated, ridiculed. They're to be treated with the same respect and dignity any person made in God's image deserves to be treated with. You know, it disturbs me sometimes in public to see how parents will treat their children. You know, I'll watch, and as a parent publicly ridicules or humiliates or yells at or even disciplines his child in public, I want to go up to that parent and say, "Is this how you would want to be treated? Of course not! Then why would you treat your child this way?"

Paul says, don't make it a pattern to anger or to provoke to anger your children. Well, what does that mean exactly? Well we get some insight from the parallel passage in Colossians 3. Turn over there with me. Colossians, another prison letter written from the same prison cell at the same time. And here Paul says the same thing but in slightly different words. Look at Colossians 3: 21. "Fathers, do not [and notice the different word he uses] exasperate your children." Now that is a very picturesque word. The Greek word literally means "to stir up." Don't stir up your children. And the word was used often in secular Greek of a bellows that was used to fan a flame into full fire. He says don't be like the bellows on the heart of anger in your child to bring it to full flame. Don't exasperate them.

We must avoid—do you understand the command here? We must avoid attitudes, words, and actions that drive our children to angry exasperation or resentment. Why? Look at verse 21: "So that they will not lose heart." So that, your children don't become discouraged and just give up. You know, that happens? Parents can so exasperate, so stir up anger in the heart of their child, that although that child naturally wants to please his or her parent, they reach a point where they say, "Who cares? It'll never happen anyway."

Now, how do we as parents most often produce anger and resentment in our children? Let me give you a little list that I've adapted from John MacArthur's excellent book on parenting. Here's a little list for you to think about. This isn't all encompassing. It just gives you some thinking points and meditation points.

Number one: inconsistent discipline. I think this is huge. How often does it happen that a parent is busy, distracted, watching sports or something; the child disobeys, does something that the child's not supposed to do. And because the parent's distracted, he or she doesn't discipline the child. The next day or later the same day, exactly the same offense occurs. But because it crosses the parent in a more personal way, the parent blows up, overreacts, over disciplines, over harsh. That is a huge exasperating experience for that child, because they don't know what to do. Obedience is now a moving target. They don't know how you're going to respond.

Secondly: unreasonable, arbitrary commands. A lot of parents use their authority over their children like dictators. They just sort of throw out these edicts that make no rational sense. They would never order someone else's child to do it. They would never order any other person made in the image of God to do it. They're unreasonable. They're irrational. They're arbitrary.

Number three: constant nagging and criticizing. Some parents are like a dripping faucet in the lives of their children. It wears then down. It exasperates them.

Number four: (And this is the other side of that.) never complimenting or encouraging. Martin Luther said, "Spare the rod, and spoil the child. That is true. But beside the rod, keep an apple to give him when he's done well." Many kids grow up saying and thinking, "Nothing I ever do satisfies my parents. They'll never be happy."

Number five: over protection. We can smother our children, so that we don't give them the appropriate level of freedom at each age, so we're still treating a 16-year-old like they're four. That's exasperating. That's stirring them up.

Number six: favoritism. If you want to see how devastating this is in a family, just read the Old Testament. Read Genesis. Look at Isaac's favoritism toward Esau, Rebekah's to Jacob, Jacob to Joseph, and see how it devastated those families.

Number seven: if you want to stir up, exasperate, your children, fail to distinguish between childish behavior and sinful behavior. Listen, our kids are kids. They don't know everything. We haven't taught them everything. I remember when one of my daughters was young and she had a rest time in her room in the afternoon. And my wife walked into her room. And as my wife walked in, threw open the door, my daughter flung her arms wide (She was standing on the bed.) and she says, "Look!" And she had taken a crayon and drawn pictures all over the walls of her room. She was proud. She didn't know it was—she didn't know we didn't want her to do that. We never thought to say, "Honey, don't draw with your crayons on the wall." It was childish behavior. It wasn't sinful behavior. She wasn't flagrantly disregarding something we told her to do. But when we fail to distinguish, it can be crushing.

I love the story of Benjamin West, the great eighteenth-century artist, and his explanation of how he became a painter. He said one day his mother was away from the house, and he came across these bottles of colored ink. And so, he decided to paint a portrait of his sister. And he did. And when his mom got home—of course in his youth and inexperience he'd made a royal mess. She just ignored the entire mess, walked over, picked up his portrait, and said, "That's of your sister Sally, isn't it?" And she bent over and kissed him before she started herself to clean the room. Benjamin West always said it was his mother's kiss that made him a painter. There's a difference between childish behavior and sinful behavior. And when we don't distinguish that, we exasperate our children.

Number eight: an unhealthy focus on achievement rather than faithfulness in character. So many parents drive their children to achieve. There're fathers who push their sons to excel in sports, to live out their own sports fantasies through their children. You know, we've all seen them on the sidelines yelling at their young son as if it was the last play of the World Series or of the Super Bowl. Mothers push their daughters to achieve in academics or as a cheerleader or as the homecoming queen or as some specific skill they're developing. When we emphasize achievement as the thing that really makes them worthy of our love and affection, we cause our children to be resentful.

Number nine: neglect. If you want to stir up anger in your children, just neglect them. In fact, if you want a powerful example of this, read 2 Samuel 14. It was this that led Absalom to both hate and rebel against his father David. It was the neglect. Our nation is filled with day-care and latch-key kids. They often feel they are an unwelcome intrusion into their parent's busy lives and careers. And it stirs up their anger.

Number ten: verbal or physical abuse. Tragically, often parents will stoop to using their most vindictive and hurtful weapon, their tongue, with sarcasm, ridicule, to belittle, to put their children in their place. Saul did this to Jonathan, you remember, when he was exasperated with him. In 1 Samuel 20, he says to Jonathan, he says, "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!" That was ancient speak for something like "you are such an idiot, you'll never amount to anything, I wish you'd just leave." Sadly, in extreme cases, parents sin against their children with physical or sexual abuse. Even Saul, he threw a spear at Jonathan his son.

Those are just a few of the ways that we provoke our children to anger. If you want to discover others, read Lou Priolo's excellent book, The Heart of Anger. But parents, listen to this, This is a command from God Himself to you as a parent. Don't do those things that sinfully provoke your children to anger and cause them to lose heart with obeying you or obeying God. That's the negative side.

Now that brings us to the positive command, the second half of verse 4. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." The positive command is "bring them up." The Greek word means "to raise, to bring up from childhood to adulthood." There's a great lesson for us as parents there, and that is: our role is to raise them. Children cannot raise themselves. In fact, the Proverb says a child left to himself will bring his parents to shame. I love this quote from the Minnesota Crime Commission. It was a government initiated study of delinquency, juvenile delinquency, over 50 years ago. Listen to what this governmental study then wrote. It's great theology too, by the way.

Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants when he wants it: his bottle, his mother's attention, his playmate's toys, his uncle's watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and with aggressiveness, which would be murderous were it not so helpless. He's dirty. He has no morals, no knowledge, no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, but all children are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centered world of infancy, given free reign to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal, a thief, a killer, a rapist.

We have to raise them. So, what should your parenting goals be in raising your children at each stage along the way?

I don't have a lot of time to give these to you, but Tedd Tripp has some great insight here. Let me just give you a framework. If your children are from infancy to about 5 years old, you have one main objective. And that is for your children to learn that they are under authority, they're under your authority, and that they must obey and respect you. That's your mission, very simply. While your kids are young—let me encourage you—be your kid's parents. Don't try to be their little friends. You know, have fun with them, be kind, enjoy them, but always be their parent. When my kids were young and things would get out of hand and they'd begin to (even in our playing around or our wrestling or whatever) to sort of cross that line, I would say something like this to them. I'd say, "Listen, I'm not one of your little friends. I'm your parent. God has put me in this role, and you must obey me. And you must treat me with respect, because God put me in this position."

From about 5 years old to 12 years old, Tripp says—And I agree with this—your main objective is character. Now there's a delicate balance here, OK? Listen carefully, because you do want them to learn basic character qualities, you want to insist on certain behaviors. But if that's all you emphasize, you're going to raise little self-righteous Pharisees. OK?

On the other side, as you teach them about character, as you teach them about what they ought to be, you're showing them their need of the gospel. "Sweetheart, the reason your behavior, the reason it's so hard for you to do what God told you to do, what I tell you to do, is the same reason it's hard for me. You have a sinful heart. That's why Jesus came." And you point them back to the gospel. But—I think there's an overreaction in our time—if that's all you say to them, you're going to raise hooligans. OK? You have to balance the two. You have to make it clear there's certain behavior they must, at least externally, reflect. But the reason that's so hard is because they're a sinner, and they need the gospel. And it's both and, not either or.

As your children get into their teen years (And the exact timing of this'll depend on their own level of maturity.) the goal will be to see your influence over them gradually transition—That's the key expression—gradually transition from authority to mentor. You're still their authority. You're still going to give them specific commands from time to time, but they're going to be fewer than there were when they were four and five. You're transitioning to that of a mentor. Your goal in these teenage years is to inculcate into their lives the fear of the Lord and to give them the kind of parental instruction that's in Proverbs. That was Solomon teaching his son and teaching the other sons in the kingdom. And the beginning of wisdom is, what? "The fear of the Lord." So, you're building this into their lives. In their adult years, your hope is to transition from being their authority, to being their older, Christian friend.

But Paul's point—coming back to Ephesians 6:4. Paul's point is raise them, bring them up. But how do we do that? That's a daunting task. Parents, there are two tools in your toolbox, two tools to accomplish raising your children in a God-honoring way. The first one is discipline. Look at verse 4: "Bring them up in the discipline." This same word is used in 2 Timothy 3:16, and there it's translated as "training in righteousness." We bring our children up by systemically training them.

I like the way Hendriksen, William Hendriksen, the great Presbyterian commentator, defines this word. He says, "Discipline is training by means of rules and regulations, rewards, and when necessary, punishments." You want a clear picture of this word? Read the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, because this is exactly what God does. God lays down clear laws, clear expectations, and then He lays down rewards if those laws are kept, and punishments if those laws are not. And then He carries through with the reward or the punishment. That's discipline.

Now that means, parents, that you need to expect of your children what God expects of them. In other words, the first three verses of Ephesians 6, you need to demand that of your children. They must obey you. That means they must do what you say, right away (that is, without delay), with no arguing or excuses, and with their whole heart. And anything less than that is not obedience. And, verse 2 of Ephesians 6, they must "honor," they must respect you as their parent. And when they do that, then you encourage them. You reward that; you thank them for their obedience; you tell them you're pleased, you're encouraged by what you see in their life.

If, on the other hand, they don't do that, then there should be negative consequences. And an important part of those negative consequences, especially as our children are young, involves physical discipline. Now I know in saying that, I have just crossed the line into what is culturally unacceptable. But as you've heard me say many times, "Let God be true and every man a liar." This is what the Bible teaches. This is what Christians have believed (and Jewish people who were true believers in God) for thousands of years. This is what even secular culture has taught until our times.

God disciplines His children. Let me give you several references. Deuteronomy 8:5, Moses says, in the wilderness "… God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son." The physical circumstances God brought to bear on the children of Israel in the wilderness were some of His discipline in their lives. 2 Samuel 7:14, God says to Solomon, or of Solomon, I should say, "when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and with the strokes of the sons of men." God says I'm going to discipline him just as an earthly father disciplines his son. Hebrews 12:6, "… THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND … SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES."

This is what God does, and God demands it of us in disciplining our children. Let me show you a few passages. Turn back to Proverbs 13. Proverbs 13:24: "He who withholds his rod [that is, physical discipline] hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently." To withhold physical discipline from your child is to treat your child no different than the person who hates his son, and it will, most of the time, ensure the same result.

Turn over to chapter 22. Chapter 22:15: "Foolishness." And this isn't talking about childishness. In Proverbs "folly" and "foolishness" it's moral foolishness. "[Moral] foolishness [disobedience, rebellion] is bound up in the heart of a child; [and] The rod of discipline [physical discipline] will remove it far from him." It is part of what God uses to bring compliance and obedience into the life of a child. Chapter 29. Chapter 29: 15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother." Down in verse 17: "Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul." This is what God says.

Now let me make it clear. The Scripture's very clear on this front as well. We are never to use physical discipline in anger. Don't you dare ever discipline your child physically when you're angry. If you're angry, stop. Go away. Cool down. And then deal with that child in love. Always in love. Never in anger. Never abusive. Never over the top. In fact, what I would do with my own children is I would decide beforehand what the offense deserved. And then I would keep myself under control to make sure that's only what I did. I tell you from my own kids, I told them the worse punishment they would ever get is lying to me. No other offense would be as bad as lying. They needed to tell me the truth. But never in anger.

Now let me just say that you have trained your children to obey you. All children eventually reach a threshold where they obey. Something is bad enough that they will obey. It may be that you've trained them to obey the first time you say something in a normal voice. That's optimal. Or it may be that you've trained them to obey you when you shout: OK, dad's serious now, he raised his voice. Or it may be when you threaten: "Don't make me turn this car around, little mister." Or maybe it's when you get up off the couch and start heading towards them: OK, now we better do what dad said. It may be that you've trained your child to respond when you get to two as you're counting to three: everything's good until he gets to three, so we can stretch this out and do what we want; but when he gets three, it's not going to be good.

In fact, there's a great book, or at least a great title called, Don't Make Me Count to Three. You see, you have trained your kids when to obey. What you need to do is teach your kids what is expected of them: first-time obedience, respect and honor. That's what God requires. Teach them. Teach them. Teach them again. Explain it. Role play. Make sure they're very clear on what you expect. And then expect it of them. And when they do it, encourage them. And when they don't, discipline them.

What if you've never insisted on first-time obedience? What if you're sitting here thinking that is not how I was parented; it's not how I've parented. What do I do? Is it too late? It's never too late, because remember, the issue isn't outcome. The issue is your obedience to God. You can start that today. So how do you start? If you've never done this, what do you do?

Well, I'll tell you what you do. And I found myself about every six months to a year in my own parenting life (realizing that I've gotten distracted, I'd let things slip, it wasn't where it ought to be) and my kids would tell you, I'd sit them down—They probably dreaded this. But I'd sit them down and say, "OK guys, I-I've sinned against God, and I've sinned against you." So, you start by asking God's forgiveness, because it's a sin not to expect your children to do this. You have a stewardship. And if you haven't lived up to that stewardship, you've sinned against God.

Secondly, seek your children's forgiveness. I would say to them—you know, five years old sitting there. I'd say, "Listen, I need to ask your forgiveness, because I have allowed you to disobey me or to be disrespectful to me and your mother, and God doesn't allow that. God doesn't permit that. And I've allowed it. So, I've sinned against you, and I've sinned against God. Would you forgive me?" And then I would say something like this to them. "But starting today, things are going to be different.

Now, because this is my problem and not your problem, I'm the one that's let this happen, we're going to have some days of just warning here. For the next week, every time you're disobedient, every time you're disrespectful, I'm going to verbally warn you: "That's disrespectful, that's not how you're to respond to me." But there's going to come a time about a week from now—and I'll warn you before it happens—when I'm going to start physically disciplining you for your disrespect and your disobedience." Discipline. It is a crucial tool to bringing up children. Lay your clear expectations. Set rewards and punishments. And do it.

The second tool we have to raise our children is instruction. Instruction. "Bring them up in the … instruction." The Greek word is literally "to place in the mind." This is verbal instruction. William Hendriksen defines this word this way. He says, "It is training by means of the spoken word, whether teaching, warning, or encouragement. Instruction seeks to correct the thinking and to appeal to the will to change."

If you want a beautiful example of what instruction is, read Proverbs, because there you have a father instructing his children: teaching, warning, and appealing—listen to your father and mother. That's instruction. Your best resource for both discipline and instruction is the Scripture. How do I know that? Because the only other place in the New Testament where these two words occur together is in 2 Timothy 3:16 about the benefit of the Scripture.

Now, do you understand that what we've covered so far in verse 4, any first-century pagan could say amen to, because these words "discipline and instruction" were part of parental instruction across the Roman and Greek world? So, so far, every pagan could say, "I agree." That's why Paul adds that absolutely crucial, prepositional phrase at the end of verse 4, the discipline and instruction "of the Lord." In the Book of Ephesians, every time the word Kurios, Lord, occurs, it's Jesus Christ. He's saying, our training and instruction must always have the Lord Jesus Christ as its reference point. Our discipline, our instruction, must be Christ centered.

Now there are a couple of very important implications here, I think, from this little phrase. One of them is: we shouldn't appeal to our own authority. Can I just say, parents, it's really a bad idea to say your kids, "Because I said so." Listen, someday they're going to be old enough and out of your home to say, "Yeah, and who cares?" It's not about because you said so. Instead, it's like this. "Listen, you must obey me, because God has made me the authority in this home. And when you disobey me, you disobey Him. My authority is temporary in your life. My authority is a borrowed authority. It's really God you're choosing to disobey." It puts their disobedience in perspective. It's not against you, it's against Christ.

But there's a second implication of that little phrase "of the Lord." And this is, I think, the main point Paul is making. This is establishing for us the ultimate goal of our parenting and of our families. You see, there's a real temptation in Christian circles today to make our Christian families the focus. There was even a ministry—and I'm not picking on them. But, I don't like the title: Focus on the Family. Listen, no, that's wrong. I understand why they named it that way. But I'm saying that's the wrong perspective for you and I to have. Our homes are supposed to be Christ centered. Over the last couple of decades there have been movements like the patriarchal movement and organizations like Vision Forum that have made family too important.

Christian families are very important. That's why Paul addresses it here. But our first priority is to Jesus Christ. That's why He said, I want your love for Me to be so profound that it makes your love for your family look like—what? Hate. Is that what you're teaching your family? That they ought to love Jesus Christ so much that it makes their love for you and for the family look like hate? That's what Jesus said. In Ephesians, Paul stresses not our individual families but the household of God, the family of God, the church. Our human families have to fit within that context. Our primary goal is to encourage our children to be God centered, Christ centered, kingdom centered, not family centered. And we get so easily distracted.

You know, there's an excellent book I've mentioned a couple of times, Tedd Tripp's book Shepherding a Child's Heart. He lists a number of unbiblical goals that we have as Christian parents. I don't have time to mention them all. Let me just mention two that I think are the biggest temptations in our own community. Here are the unbiblical goals I think we're all tempted to pursue.

Number one: developing special skills in the life of our children. I mean things like athletics, sports, football, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, swimming, dance; then it goes on, piano, debate. I mean any extracurricular your child can be involved in. There's a legitimate place for those skills. But what about the emphasis? How much emphasis do you give to these things? Are your kid's sports' practices more important to you than your kid's spiritual disciplines? Is your kid's involvement in one of these special skills more important to you than their involvement in the life of the church? Let me just put it very bluntly. When you stand before God someday, and you give an account for the stewardship of the life of your children, He's not going to ask how far your child advanced in baseball or piano or whatever. So, don't get it out of balance.

The other one, I think, that's a big temptation in our area is getting, a good education. A good education. In fact, in one survey, the highest percentage of Christian parents, 39% of Christian parents, said the ultimate outcome of Christian parenting was a good education for their kids. Really? By the way, this temptation comes in all sizes and shapes: home schooling, public schooling, private schooling, classical education. There's nothing wrong with a good education for your child. You need to have them prepared to live in the world. The question is, how important is it? If the primary goal of your parenting is giving your child a good education, you are failing as a Christian parent. We're instead to have Christ-centered homes. Fathers, parents, bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Now as we finish our time, let me just give you a couple of resources. If you can't get these down, they'll be posted later this week. So, don't worry. But here are some resources I would recommend to you.

Number one on my list would be Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. We read it probably once a year when our kids were younger. And we still read it, because it's a great instruction biblically on how to approach parenting.

Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley—another helpful book, that balance I was talking about.

John MacArthur's book, Successful Christian Parenting.

If you have teenagers, Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp, rather.

Get Outta My Face! How to Reach Angry, Unmotivated Teens with Biblical Counsel by Rick Horne.

And if you have angry kids, Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo.

Those are all helpful. Parents, our goal is to have Christ-centered families and children. May God help us to follow this one verse, just one verse, telling us how to parent. May we think about it, meditate on it, and by God's grace, pursue it.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this clear instruction. We thank You, first of all, that You are our Heavenly Father, and that everything we've learned from this verse today, You are doing in all of our lives who belong to You. And we thank You.

But Father, we also see the charge, the stewardship, that You've given us as parents. Father, help us not to be influenced by the culture and the world around us. We're so easily sucked away from these priorities to other things.

Father, help us instead to embrace what You have commanded. Lord, may we live out this verse in our families. May, by Your grace, we produce Christ-centered children. But Father, ultimately, help us not even to care about the ultimate product over which we have no real control.

But Father, may each of us as Christian parents devote ourselves to be faithful to this task, so that someday we can stand before You having been faithful and hear "well done good and faithful servant."

We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.