Good morning! You’ve got your Bibles open already, right? We’re back at our study in Ephesians, and we’re going to be in Ephesians chapter 6, opening up this final chapter. We’ve been marching verse-by-verse-by-verse through it, and this is the section where we kind of slow ‘way down, because it’s such practical teaching.
We’ve learned that the book of Ephesians has two different divisions. Part 1 is about our identity in Christ. Part 2 is about our activity because of our identity. And so, it’s not just about who I am, it’s about what I’m supposed to act like. So we finally come to the very important section that is actually one of the most often-repeated verses in the Griffith household!
Now, before we read it, I just want to identify who’s here today. I would like to know, where are the parents in the room? If you are a parent, would you please stand? It’s not enough not to just raise your hand in church—you’ve gotta burn some calories if you’re in church! That’s a good worship service, right there, when you burn some calories. Here are the parents! Would all the children like to give the parents a hand? Did you hear that enthusiasm for the parents this morning, from the children?
Alright, now remain standing. I need to know at what phase of parenting you are in. If you have adult children—let’s say twenty and above—would raise your hand? You have adult children. Alright, very good, very good. And your work—you’ve done all the damage you can do at this point, right? So you’re saying, “Well, this is certainly not for me!” Ohhh, it may be something the Spirit of God may use in this message to kind of show you some areas where you gotta circle back, maybe go seek some forgiveness to try to repair some of that damage. And it may just be vertically where you’re at – you need to just trust in the Lord and lean on His grace. So we’re grateful for you.
How many of you have children between the ages of zero and five? Raise your hands. Alright. Do you see the dark circle under these—under the eyes of these people, here, alright? How many of you have children between the ages of six to ten? Raise your hands. Alright, alright. That’s a challenging time. How about you have children between the ages of eleven to fifteen? Alright. Some of you just keep raising your hand! Oh—you’ve got a lot of kids! Okay.
Here’s a special group: How many of you have children between the ages of sixteen and twenty? Okay, we have special counseling after church, have special small group to put you in and special prayer! Okay! Now, this is what I’d like to do. I would like for you to remain standing if you have teenage boys. Oh, my goodness! Alright! And these people need special prayer for sure!
And, um, now, I want you to remain standing if you’re a perfect parent. All the perfect parents can remain standing. Um, yeah, the longer it takes you to be seated, the quicker you should have been seated. Okay, so all the perfect parents have now been dismissed so I guess we’ve got some work to do on this particular subject.
This is kind of a two-sided message because there are some things we need to say to parents. There’s also some things that God wants to say to children. So, if you are still living in your parents’ home, would you please stand? You’re still living in your parents’ home. Alright. Oh, look! Here are some children. We have some children! And we have teenagers, and of course we’ve got the younger kids out in Harvest Kids. And so we’ll trust that that message is gonna get to them through their parents—and so be paying attention. You may be seated now.
Now, let’s just read the Scripture here because this is going to be every parent’s playbook. If you’re a parent, you need to know what God says to parents. If you’re a child, you need to know what God says to you through your parents. And here it is in Ephesians chapter 6, verse 1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’” [ESV]
Now, I told you, this is one of the most often-repeated verses in the Griffith household, and in order to understand this, I need a baby. Does anybody have a baby that I can borrow for a sermon illustration? Oh, here’s one over here. Alright, so, here we have a child. And, quite possibly, the cutest child on the planet at this very moment, alright? Who’s this? This is Leona! How old is Leona? You’re…you look new!
So, here’s what happened in the Griffith household every time God sent one of these little bundles of joy to us. So, you go through all the trauma at the hospital, and then they give you the child and send you home. And they give you the illusion they’re giving you everything you need at that moment. They give you a couple of diapers, they give you a couple of pacifiers and a baby blanket. Good luck, right?
And, so, this is what happened. When we brought one of these little things home, I immediately took the child and I propped the child up and I said, “Look at me!” (Which was the first time they disobeyed!) I’m like, “I’m serious! We’re going to start our theological education right now. Here it is. Repeat after me: ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord.’ Now, say that!” . . .and, nothin’! “That’s alright—we’re going to work on it again tomorrow. Alright?” And, I’m serious. Every day for the first five years it was, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord!” Because that is about all they needed to know in the first five years. If you can get that down, the rest of the time is going to go much better!
[To Leona]: As much as I would like to have you here the whole sermon…it’s going to be really hard to give you back! And, um, anybody want one of these? My goodness! This is the best kid ever! Alright, you gotta be here all morning, cause I need you for the other two services!
So, we have a command, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord!” So let’s begin to unpack that, okay? Just three plays in the parents’ playbook. Here’s the first one. (Oh, by the way, I do have some children that used to look like that. They now look like this! So pray for me! This…we affectionately call our family, “the incredibles.” And there they are.)
Last night I took my family over to Chicago. Brooke’s about to turn twenty-one, and so Brooke is now a worship leader at Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, and just sitting on the second row and being led in worship by my kid! So proud of her! She’ll lead thousands of people in worship this weekend! Then there’s Zac who just finished his sophomore year at Cedarville University. He’s studying to be a pastor. He came home from college this week and he said, “Yeah, Dad, one of the things I did this week—or, this semester—was, I translated the whole book of 1st John from Greek!” So, now he’s advising me on like what’s in the Bible and like how to preach and stuff, and it’s like, “Okay, this is cool!”
And then you’ve got Alli, and she’s the best kid—we’re not even gonna apologize for saying that. And, uh, we just tell all of the kids, “Just be like Alli! Except driving—don’t drive like Alli.” And then, Leah is walking around taking care of your kids, taking care of Leona, and she’s got a clipboard, and she’s in charge of everything. And she just shadows Michelle Helmkamp. And then there’s Scott, that became a part of our family a couple years ago. And so it’s just, it’s just constant! It’s just always!
And, here’s the first thing that children need to know about their parents, and the first thing that parents need to know about their children, is this:
- Every parent’s passion is this: Obedient children.
Am I telling the truth here? Every parent’s passion is obedient children!
So, this is what parents want; it’s what God wants; it’s just not always what the kids want. So, let’s talk to the children first of all. Most of this message is going to be directed to parents, but—children—there are some things that God wants you to know.
Here’s the first thing. Your parents aren’t perfect. Did you see them all sit down when we said the perfect parents can remain standing? Your parents aren’t perfect. But listen, perfect parenting has never been a prerequisite for obedience! And imperfect parenting has never been an excuse for rebellion and resistance and disobedience. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right!” Every parent’s passion is obedient children.
Do you know that children get to decide what role your parents play in your life? Nobody can force you to obey! Your parents may try, but you have to choose what role you’re going to allow your parents to play in your life. Now, you can kind of look at your parents and think, “I want my parents to be the banker. Or the housekeeper. Or the chef. Or the chauffeur!” And some of you are like, “That sounds pretty good to me!” It’s like…okay, that may be involved because they love you, but that is not the ultimate role.
Some of you say, “I want my parents…I know, I want my parents to be my friend!” Now listen, you need friends, but that is not the role God has designated your parents to play in your life. A friend is like, we hang out together, we share, we exchange ideas together. But when we have different ideas we kind of part ways and find better friends, right? That is not the way the parenting relationship is supposed to work.
You may see your parents as the enemy to your freedom. You may see your parents as the enemy, because they’re withholding something that you want—it’s your freedom. Interestingly, you don’t maybe understand the correlation between freedom and responsibility. It’s interesting—you want all the freedom, but you want none of the responsibility. And one of the tasks of a parent is knowing at what point to give appropriate freedom along with appropriate responsibility.
And here’s the good news, kids. One day, you’re going to have all the freedom you want! And you know what you’re going to get with it? All the responsibility! And you’re going to find out that freedom is not all that it’s cracked up to be when you get the boatload of responsibility that goes with it! So that’s what we’re engaged in, is this constant battle between freedom and responsibility.
Here’s the way you need to see your parents, children. You need to see your parents as God’s tool. They are God’s tool for your sanctification. God has given you parents, primarily, for two reasons: for your protection, so you don’t kill yourself or somebody else as you try to live your life exercising all your freedom—for your protection. And, secondly, for your direction—because you do not have all of the wisdom and skill that you need to make appropriate decisions. So, God’s given parents to children for protection and direction.
Now, let’s say a word to parents. Parents, do you know that God has given you the freedom to choose what role you’re going to play in your kids’ life? And He’s given you the freedom to choose what role your kids play in your life. Some parents view their kids’ role as indentured servants, to make my life easier! To be a chef, a housekeeper, a chauffeur and free labor around the house! Other parents want friendship with their children. They want a friend, and they want to exchange ideas and just kind of have democracy in the home. That’s not the role.
And, unfortunately, there are a lot of parents that look to their children as the provider of their identity. Parents who find their identity, their meaning and their purpose in their children can’t afford to give their children any freedom or any responsibility because they want their children to be dependent on them, completely and totally. Do you know what that means? That means that sometimes parents have such a need to be needed, they can’t allow their children to be dependent on anyone else but them. They can’t trust God for their children; they can’t trust anybody else with their children. And do you know how often it shows up at church? Sometimes parents can’t let their children even go into the nursery for fear that someone else might be able to take care of them—and we need our children to need us.
And so, looking to your children to provide your identity is a horrible and an exhausting way to live! Children, obey your parents. But, parents, do not let your children dictate for you who you are and what you are to do!
Do you know what parenting essentially can be boiled down to? Parenting can be boiled down to this: it is a battle for the control of the center of the universe. Did you know how significant your role is? As a parent, you are protecting the center of the universe! “What do you mean by that?” If you raise your children to believe that they are the center of anything, you are setting your children up to fail! As a parent, do you know what your job is? Your job is to convince your children they are not—ever, at any moment—the center of the universe!
And if you think that spot at the center of the universe is reserved for you—you are setting your children up for failure as well. Class, who is the center of the universe? God is! Your job as a parent is to protect the center of the universe from your children, and to communicate to them that the center of the universe is reserved for God—and God alone!
Do you know what that means inside your home? God is going to be the center of our home. You, as a child (Leona), you’re going to be a welcomed member into this household—but you are not the sun in the solar system around here. You are a planet! And our schedule and our mealtime and our money and our emotion is not going to revolve around you. You are going to revolve around God, and our home is going to revolve around God—because God is going to be the center of our home.
And so, what happens so often is, we make the children, especially when they are as cute as Leona!—and how many of you understand that Leona’s probably not always that cute! And there are times she’s probably demanding food and time and attention from Mom and Dad, and we give her appropriate food, time and attention. But she doesn’t get all the attention, all the food and all of the time that she wants because she’s not the center. She’s got to be revolving around God. And the parents’ job is to communicate and to convince a child: “You’re not the center of anything! We’re not going to have a child-centered home!’
So, how do you know if you have a child-centered home? Well, here’s a few things.
You could have a child-centered home if you allow your children to needlessly interrupt adults when they are talking.
You could have a child-centered home if you allow your children to use manipulation or rebellion to get their way.
You could have a child-centered home if your children are allowed to dictate the family schedule and keep you from the place of worship.
Let me ask you a question: what if, in the halls of Congress this week, there was a bill passed that said, “Parents of children under one-year-old are not allowed to go to church!” How would we react as a church? We would protest! We would vote them out of office! We would scream, “Religious liberty! We have freedom of religion! You can’t say that parents of young children can’t come to church!” But, parents of young children—are you allowing your children to dictate how often you come to church?
And you say, “Well, they’re just so needy and we just have to…” No. No, you have a child-centered home. You need to rise up in protest against the little “god” that has taken the place of the center of universe. Quit worshipping the little idol that is so full of wonder, and teach the child—even at a very young age—“You’re a planet that revolves around our schedule; we don’t revolve around yours,” because children are to obey their parents! And we need to communicate that at a very early age.
You might have a child-centered home if you allow your children to take priority over needs in the home, especially if your children take a higher priority than your marriage or your spouse.
You might have a child-centered home if you allow your children to demand excessive attention from parents—to the detriment of parental responsibilities.
You might have a child-centered home if you allow your children to speak to parents and other adults disrespectfully, as if they were peers.
You might have a child-centered home if you allow your children to be the dominant influence in your home.
It’s not right, because children are supposed to obey the parents. Parents are not supposed to obey their children.
Am I communicating here? Alright, can you tell this is a burden for our church? And so, let’s move along through the passage. Let’s get to the second word: “obey.” This is called “Bible teaching.” We just kind of go word-by-word through the Bible here.
“Obey.” So what is obedience? Here’s a couple of things that we would say about obedience. First of all, obedience is the most distinctive characteristic of the Christian life. This passage that we’re reading is just simply the overflow of chapter 5 verse 22, that we preached a couple of months ago, which says—in verse 22—that we are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
The first example that he gave is how husbands and wives are to relate together. And we talked about “submitting” is setting another person up to win, and it’s voluntarily putting yourself in a position that says, “I want to be on your team. I want to cheer you on! I don’t have to call the plays. I just want to be on your team—I believe in you! You’re going in the right direction.” And so, children are to submit to their parents: “Obey your parents in the Lord.” So, obedience is the most distinctive mark of the Christian life. The Lordship of Christ in my life requires obedience from me.
Number two, obedience is not instinctive. Obedience is distinctive for the Christian, but it is not instinctive for the Christian. That’s why the command has to be there in verse 1. Do you understand that Leona—as cute as she is—is a twisted, bent, broken sinner? And that’s the way they arrive in your home? They don’t arrive neutral—they arrive in rebellion against you and in rebellion against God. And so, God has given you as parents an impossible task, as an imperfect parent, to train and coach a rebellious, bent, broken sinner. That’s why they don’t instinctively obey. And it’s our job, as gospel parents, to help them understand, “There’s something broken in you that only God can fix—and it can’t be fixed through your obedience.”
Obedience, thirdly, is right! Do you see the word? It says in verse 1, “Children, obey your children in the Lord, for…” Why? He gives us the reason. “Cause it’s right!” The number one job of a parent is to call my children into right relationship with God. God put me in their lives to point to God and say, “His way is right!” It’s always right. Every time you obey Him, it is the right thing to do.
That means I have to point out when my child is wrong. That means I have to lean into their life. I have to be willing to get into the fray with them. And it means that –the gospel teaches us that my disobedience, my bent away from God, means I have a big problem! I’m not right. I’m not right with God. And the only way I can be made right with God is through faith in Jesus Christ, because Jesus did what was always right—through His obedience.
So, we’ve all been there, right, in trying to do this? I mean, the scenario in my home that has taken place so many times…I just finished a wonderful three-point sermon to my five children on how to put others first, and to delay gratification, and to not be selfish, and finished with that sermon, I have felt very justified in the way that it flowed and the response that I got. And so, exhausted now, I go park myself on the couch and maybe just try to watch a few minutes of news, and then about five minutes later I hear, coming from another room in the house, yelling and screaming and a battle for control! And there is an emotion in me that lifts me off the couch! And the emotion is not love! The emotion is anger! And it’s not that I regret having the children, it’s just that I regret having the children right now!
And I march up the stairs, and—because my sermon didn’t work—I begin to resort to other tools in my toolbox: Yelling! Shaming! “This is not the way that Griffith children act! I’m so ashamed of you! If the church knew, they wouldn’t let me be their pastor!” Threatening them with, “I will take every toy and every piece of clothing and every article of furniture to Goodwill tomorrow if you do not obey!” It’s not good. It’s not a good strategy. And the problem is, I’m not concerned that they’re not right with God; I’m concerned, not that they have crossed His will, but they’ve crossed my will! Obedience is right!
Obedience brings blessing. There’s a promise repeated all through the Bible. It’s the most basic promise, the most basic principle, of the Bible. It’s first of all contained in Deuteronomy chapter 11, verse 26. It says this. God says, “I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse…” You have a choice. You want blessing, you want a curse? How many of you would choose blessing? Blessing from God? God says, “Here’s how you get it. It’s real simple: “…the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse [you want to know how to get the curse?], if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord. . .” And we see it in this text. He says, “Honor your father and mother” ([it’s]. . .the first commandment with a promise), [verse] 3 “that it may go well with you. . .”
How many of you want it to go well with your children? You want them to have a great life? That’s a parent’s passion, right? You want to have a great life? All you have to do is obey! You can have a great life now! “It will go well with you, children, if you obey!” Not only good now, but it will go better for you in the future!
Do you see what he says in verse 3? “…that you may live long in the land.” He’s actually quoting from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, he was speaking specifically of geographical plots of land over in Israel (that I walked upon a couple of weeks ago), but the application in this text—that Paul uses—is a land that is to come. Our Promise Land is what? It’s Heaven! If you want a home in Heaven, one of the ways that you get this home is by obedience. Now, be careful! You don’t get Heaven by obedience. But listen, we get Heaven by obeying the gospel.
The Scripture says in 1 Peter chapter 4, verse 17: “…what will be the outcome [of] those who do not obey the gospel of God?” What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that, you’re so bad—you didn’t obey—but Jesus did obey. It’s through Christ’s obedience that we get a home in Heaven. And that’s what parents are to teach their children: Obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the only way you’re going to inherit the land and live long, eternally, in the land that is to come, in Heaven.
And, finally, we need to understand what obedience actually is. Can we have a definition? I’ve taught you this many times. After our children got a nice, articulate understanding of Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord,” then we had a talk about what it means. And so, this is how we did it. Liz, come up here, Liz, come, come, come, come here, Liz. So, obedience is doing what I’m told to do, when I’m told to do, with the right heart attitude. Did you see how nicely Liz obeyed when she popped up off the front row and joined me up here?
Now, Liz, in our home we have some hand motions that go with this.
Liz: I’ve heard, yeah.
Pastor Trent: You’ve heard?
Liz: Leah’s done it for me.
Pastor Trent: Leah’s, she’s tried to teach you to obey her…
Pastor Trent: …which does not surprise me Leah would do that with you! I apologize. I will work on that this afternoon with her. But this is the way it goes. Can you close your eyes and say the obedience definition?
Liz: I can, I think.
Pastor Trent: You can? Close your eyes. Say it!
Liz: Obedience is doing what you’re told to do, when you’re told to do it, with the right heart attitude.
Pastor Trent: Bam! How ‘bout that? That’s good! Do you know the hand motions that go with it?
Liz: I think, yeah.
Pastor Trent: So, here it goes (do you want to do it with me?). Here we go: Obedience is doing what I’m told to do, when I’m told to do it, with the right…heart…attitude! All right. Do that? Oh, I forgot the snap. All right, you want to do that, too? All right, let’s do it again. Here we go. Obedience is doing what I’m told to do, when I’m told to do it, with the right heart attitude. Mmm-hmm! [Snaps fingers.] You gotta do that! Alright? That’s good. Thank you, you may now have a seat.
Would you like to try it? Let’s all do it together. Here we go! [He says in a sing-song voice.] Obedience is doing what I’m told to do, when I’m told to do it, with the right heart attitude! Mm-hmm! [Snap.] Alright! There we go!
Now, that is a definition, not only for our children. That’s an obedience definition for everyone who calls Christ “Lord.” What has the Lord told you to do? Have you done it? Have you done it immediately when you’re told to do it? Some of you, God has told you need to get baptized. You haven’t done it. You’re not obeying! You can do it by obeying the Lord through believer’s baptism. Baptism is the first step of obedience for a Christian. .And then you work on everything else.
It’s like [with a grouchy snarl in his voice], “Alright! I’ll get baptized!” [He rebukes that]: “With the right heart attitude! Mm-hmm! [Snap]” All right? You gotta do it with the right attitude, or God looks at it as like, “No, you’re just going through some religious motions,” okay? So, children, obey your parents, doing what you’re told to do when you’re told to do it with the right heart attitude. You say, “But Trent, my parents aren’t Christians!” So? That’s why he tells you to obey them in the Lord.
That’s why, in verse 22 he says, “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Not because your parents are right, but because God is right! Do you understand the phrase, “in the Lord?” Do you know what that means? That means your parents are enveloped in the Lord. That means that your parents’ rules are engulfed in the rules of the Lord. That means that your parents’ mistakes are covered in the Lord. That means that your parents’ sins are forgiven in the Lord! You’ve got to look through your parents. On the other side of your parents is God! And if you have a problem obeying your parents, you have a problem obeying God. This is not a horizontal issue; this is a vertical issue with the Lord. Children, obey your parents in the Lord.
And he uses another word here: “honor.” Do you see it there in verse 2? “Honor your father and [your] mother…” Honor is the attitude behind the outward action of obedience. Honor is placing high value on someone. Honor is the inward attitude that says, “I understand that God uses authority to direct and to protect my life.” Every parent’s passion is what? Obedient children.
Number two, every parent’s caution…there’s a caution in this verse.
- Every parent’s caution: Provoked children.
Look at it, verse 4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Some of you are getting so motivated right now! You’re like, “That’s right! I’m going to obey the Lord!” You’re going to walk through the house in a just a few minutes; you’re going to grab a kid; you’re going to sit him down, and you’re going to lecture and you’re going to try to motivate. Be careful! Careful! In doing that, you are in danger of provoking your children.
“Provoking.” What does it mean to provoke a child? Provoking means to repeatedly offend, to the point that it builds up anger and resentment over time, and that eventually it spills over in rebellion from a child.
The best way to illustrate that is a Coke bottle. Have you ever taken a Coke bottle and just shake it? Just shake it? What if you shake the bottle for, uh, thirteen years? Shake the bottle! And after a while, you set it on the shelf. Somebody comes along and twists the lid. What’s gonna happen? Do you know what happens so often in the life of a teenager? That bottle has been shaken and agitated so often that, at thirteen, you twist the lid and we say, “What a rebellious child!” No, it could be that the child’s been provoked to anger.
How do you provoke a child to anger? We could make a list of a hundred things. Let’s put them in three categories. First of all:
Three ways to provoke your child to anger:
- A lack of intimacy and permanency in your with your child’s father of mother.
Can we just talk about basic, biological families? God intended a biological father to marry—and remain married to—a child’s biological mother for a lifetime! Is it any wonder that we have an angry society! Riots in the streets? What’s the problem with all that? “Well, it must be poverty; it must be racial tension!” Could it be that biological fathers are not marrying biological mothers and staying married through a lifetime, providing a place of instruction and security and love in the home?
Listen! Have you ever heard the phrase, “I want to give my child all the things that my parents never gave me!” How about starting with a permanent, intimate, durable marriage? What your children want most is for your marriage to succeed! No greater fan of your marriage than your kids, and when we fail at that, it creates all kinds of tension and anger on the inside. That anger may show itself in depression (that’s inward anger) or it may be outbursts of anger and violence and out-of-control behavior. We wonder, “What’s wrong?!” You might want to look at mom and dad. Here’s another way to provoke a child:
- Attempts to control your child.
Listen, parents are supposed to teach their children to obey. But please understand: you cannot force your children to obey. That’s a choice that they have to give. And, let me just say up front – good parents can raise rebellious kids, and bad parents can raise really godly kids. There’s no cookie-cutter recipe for children. It’s not like baking cookies. It’s not like you put the ingredients in a bowl, you stir it up, you stick them in the oven, you get a perfect cookie every time! That’s not the way it works with a parent, because we’re dealing with matters of the heart. But if you attempt to force and control and overly constrain your children, and if you pour truth into them without the appropriate balance of grace, you’re going to provoke your children to anger. Do you know what parents are? Parents are not controllers. Parents are ambassadors.
Here’s a great verse for parents: 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Does that sound like somebody that’s trying to control another individual, or someone that is trying to persuade a child to be right with God? And what ultimately is at stake is not my relationship with my child; it is that child’s relationship with God. And so, we’re not controllers—we’re ambassadors appealing on behalf of Christ.
And then, finally:
You want to provoke your child to anger? Require something of them that do you not require of yourself. And you get opportunities to be tested all week long, right? Because you try to train, you try to teach. Parenting is he opportunity to show your children whether or not you actually believe the gospel. And you get opportunities all the time, because the greatest opportunity to provoke your child to anger is when your child is provoking you, and how you respond to that.
Do your children ever provoke you? They provoke you through childishness or through rebellion or just mistakes they make along the way. I spent my week parenting this week—along with a million other things. Wednesday morning I was at breakfast with a young man I’m trying to pour into and disciple, and I get a phone call. And I look down—it’s one of my children (who shall remain nameless in this illustration).
I picked up the phone and this child is crying, in tears. First word: “Da-a-a—ad!” It’s a good word, it’s a good word. It’s like, “I’m needed.” At least she knew to call. I don’t know what’s happening here, but it sounds like I’m needed. Child is in distress and I am the ambassador about to step into the situation. The child went on to tell me that there was a brick mailbox in the neighborhood whose gravitational pull acted upon the car that was driving through the neighborhood and pulled it into the brick mailbox. And the mailbox lost!
Now, in this moment, I have an opportunity to demonstrate to my child whether or not I actually believe the gospel. Am I going to be a controller or am I going to be an ambassador? And so, I rush to scene of the crime. The child was not hurt; there’s a little damage to the car, and there was a lot of damage to the mailbox of the unsuspecting homeowner! And the child has related this story to his or her friends throughout the week, and my child has said, “You know, Dad, when I tell the story, all my friends immediately ask me, ‘Was your dad mad!?’ And they wanted to hear a story about the hypocritical pastor that hates his children!
Fortunately, God’s grace was sufficient for me on that day, and my response to my child was, “I want you to know, I love you more than I love my car.” And then we had an opportunity to go talk to the home owner to find out how much he loved his mailbox! And, he loves his mailbox a lot! I just want to say that. So, anyway, we’re in the process of all that.
Listen! You are going to get multiple opportunities throughout the day—with multiple children—to demonstrate whether you are a hypocrite or whether you genuinely believe the gospel!
Here’s the third thing. . .
- Every parent’s mission: Discipled children.
We’ve looked at every parent’s passion – what’s that? Obedient children. We’ve looked at every parent’s caution – what’s that? Provoked children. And, finally, every parent’s mission: Discipled children.
“Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” So, let’s talk about this word “discipline.” It’s the same word we get our word “disciple” from. It means we are not just putting external boundaries on them, but we’re reaching the heart—so that the boundaries are in the heart of the child. So that when the parent is not hovering over the child, the child actually acts like they would if the parent was controlling them from the outside because you’ve captured their heart.
To disciple a child—“discipline”—means training. It means nurturing. It means extracting the boatload of foolishness that came with them when you brought them home from the hospital. And you do that primarily through actions. Proverbs chapter 13 verse 24 says this: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son.” You say, “I could never spank my child because I love him too much!” Not according to the Bible. It’s not because you love him too much, it’s because you love him too little. He who loves him is diligent—on it all the time, 24/7—to discipline him! Proverbs 29 verse 17: “Discipline your son…he will give you rest…”
What happens if you don’t discipline him? You will be exhausted! I cannot tell you the number of exhausted parents because they do not believe their kid can obey—for whatever reason: “He’s ADD.” “He’s a boy.” “He’s two.” And you’re exhausted! “Discipline your son…he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.”
Can I ask you honestly? When you think of your two-year-old, is he a delight? When the volunteers in Harvest Kids see you coming down the hallway with your two-year-old, does it bring delight to their heart? Are they exhausted—because you have not discipled your kid? You can have rest! You don’t have to be exhausted! You just have to train your children to obey their parents in the Lord! So how do you that?
Real quick! I’ll give you five things real quick. First of all:
You say, “How early can a kid learn to obey?” It’s real simple: whenever a child understands the word “no.” Then he can hear you say “no,” look at you and say, “I’ll show you!” And that’s the point you begin to apply the discipline. And you’ve got to show him that your “no” is stronger than his “no.” Isn’t it interesting that sometimes a child’s first word is “no?” So, start early! And if you do this—early—eighty-percent of your discipline (especially physical discipline) will be finished by age five. If you don’t start, you’ll never finish—so start early.
Expect first-time obedience.
You know what that means? “When I tell you to do something, once you’ve understood it – if I’ve clearly communicated, we’ve had eye contact, I understand you understood what I said, and you disobey? That is your last chance!” Not: “Okay, I’m going to give you one more try!” Not: “(Sniff) One! (Sniff) Two!” You’re training your child you don’t expect them to obey the first time. You’re training your child to disobey! So expect first-time obedience.
Administer the consequences of sin.
That means that you have to apply a measured amount of pain to offset the pleasure to sin. There is pleasure to sin. So a parent’s job has to help the understanding, “It’s not worth it! It is not worth it! And I do this because I love you, because I don’t want the pain that’s coming down the road to impact your life.” So there’s a measured (not all the pain), a measured amount of pain. And, listen, it’s not just physical pain. Because there are more painful things that communicate to a thirteen-year-old than a spanking, right? Taking the phone away, sitting in a room. That’s really painful.
Especially at places where it’s really hard—in public or at mealtime—you’ve got to do that.
Never discipline in anger.
There’s one other word here, it’s “instruction,” which is different. Instruction means to impart wisdom—not just extract foolishness—but impart wisdom, through words, through warnings and corrections and rebukes and encouragement and praise and teaching and coaching. The word actually means “to put into mind.” That means that when they come home from the hospital, there is a doughnut-hole in there that has to be filled up with wisdom. “Put it in their mind.” And, listen, if you do not do this, there will be hundreds of people standing in line waiting for the opportunity to put something in their mind that you didn’t put in their mind. And so, this is how important it is!
This is the way we’re going to end the service…would you stand with me right now? I want to give you two resources; I want to make this really practical. One of the ways that we can instruct is by using good tools. Out in the resource center there’s a wonderful new tool that’s been published. It’s called the New City Catechism.
I know “catechism” may be a foreign word to you. It just simply is a list of questions and answers, based on truths in Scripture. It’s a way to put into their minds truths about God. And there’s another parenting book that’s just been released. If you’re familiar with Paul Tripp, my friend—he has some amazing material on understanding, really, what the assignment for a parent really is. I want us to pray for our children right now; I want to pray for you as parents. Would you bow your heads?
Father, I know the parents in this room—like me—feel so ill-equipped. And, Lord, a past trail of hypocrisy and anger and passivity is probably part of our resume. And so, God, we put all of that before you. We ask for grace as parents. God, we recognize that the reality is we are so—we are much more like our children than we are like God. And our disobedience and our rebellion, our resistance, our bent, our brokenness, God, we bring all of that to Christ. And I pray that we would leave here encouraged and forgiven and hopeful!
But then, we also pray for our children. God, wherever they are in their life – adult children, kids still in our home – and we carry the burden, we carry the hope that, God, You will work through us. We lift our hands in volunteer and say, “We’ll be Your ambassadors – that You would make Your appeal through us to the hearts of our kids. Grab their hearts! Now, draw them to You!
And I pray for the children here. I pray that all of those attitudes that want the freedom without the responsibility, and the resistance and the rebellion…I just pray, God, that they would lean into You—that their hearts would be humble and open to putting themselves under the authority of the parents that you’ve placed in their lives. That there would be honoring attitudes, honoring words, honoring actions from these teenagers here today.
And, God, would You use the conversations around the table the rest of the day to bring reconciliation—and maybe even gospel truth? And I pray, God, for some here today that heard those testimonies from Matt and Jessica. That, maybe for the first time the light bulb went on – they understand that they can’t be right with You without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Would You give them the humility to admit that? Even right now just to cast all their trust upon you, to repent of sin and to obey the gospel. To repent and believe that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation for them! Thank You for a good day in Your house. We pray in Jesus’ Name—Amen.