Train Up a Child
Presenter: Larry Kirkpatrick
Location: Mentone SDA Church, CA, USA
Delivery: 2008-05-10 15:37Z
Publication: GreatControversy.org 2008-10-07 01:55Z
Dear friends, if we believe that God desires to produce a godly final generation, what would be our part? The duties of Christian parenting are not just for those with children. We are all in this together. There is no reason why we have to fail to learn from the mistakes and the successes of others except for our own stubbornness. Should our children suffer because we are too stubborn to learn how to be parents?
There are some exceptional parents here present. I have no claims of perfect parenting to offer. But it is also true that there has been a steady change in our church. Perhaps some have not noticed. Every Sabbath at least a fourth of those present for the church service are children. Our congregation has a wide-ranging and vibrant mix of ages. Several families are expecting. The Mentone church school, our Sabbath School departments and leaders, our children’s choir, and other factors, have combined to bring together some very serious families and persons, and here we are. We would be derelict if from time to time we did not give special attention to this way in which the Lord has blessed us.
Then we come to parenting. “Parenting” means being the responsible agent in helping someone grow. “Christian parenting” means being the responsible agent in helping someone grow and learn how to follow Christ.
Few things are more precious to us than our children. And we can all relate to children. Not all of us have been parents, but all of us have been children. But how do you raise a child? There is a treasure-trove of insight for us in God’s Word.
One Simple Text
And yet, today we will only look at a few texts. One simple text provides a good starting place. When the Scripture urges us to “train up a child,” we notice that there is some labor involved. A child does not accidentally learn to be unselfish; he must be taught. He does not automatically learn to be orderly, to be diligent, to be goal-directed. Without guidance from parents, he will become microwave-minded, centered on having what he wants now.
Training is necessary. But if we would train our children to be right then we ourselves must be rightly trained first. Many of us have at some point in our adult life discovered that we need to re-educate ourselves. We find that we need to reappraise what we had learned at home or at school or even at church. We want to make sure that we are really tracking where reality is, because we want to give our children an education that will benefit rather than hinder.
Training takes considerable time. And we are so busy. But keep this in mind: the time invested in your children when they are in their youngest ages will pay-off years down the way. The benefit will be incalculable. Whatever it costs, see to it that you invest the time needed. Time is the great equalizer. The world’s poorest and richest all have the same amount. Pastors and parishioners all have the same amount. Believers and unbelievers, Adventists and non-Adventists all have the same quantity. Love is the ultimate measure. Time invested equals love.
The training must continue, changing with the growth of the child. This is why the idea in the phrase is to “train up.” Not just training, but continuing age-appropriate training, is called for.
The call is to train up “a child.” We are all children, but we should keep in mind certain needs. Consider a child’s world. He knows, hopefully, his mother and his father; siblings and other relatives are a major part of his life. Grandmother and grandfather are very significant figures. These give him a sense of identity. He is loved all around. But we dare not forget that he is a child. He is not safe with himself. Without vigilance, one moment can be the very end. He may run out into the street, or fall out of a cart, or choke on a small object, drown, die in a closed, hot vehicle, ingest poison. He needs your protection.
It is interesting how God’s law is a protector if it is obeyed. If God did not care for us, He would not bother to tell us about the bad outcomes that self-centeredness can lead to. He would just let us learn the hard way. Parents have this role for their children. As the law protected, they are to protect. This doesn’t mean they are to be cold and distant. Who ever said that God’s law is cold and distant? It is a law of love, because protection rises from love.
When you think about this, you can see that God’s law is an expression of love. It is a (limited) look at God’s character. To the child, the parent is the face of God. How you treat them, look at them, talk to them, touch them, listen to them, inculcates in them some very basic picture about what God is like. Smile. You’re representing God to this person. This person is a child.
The directive is to train up the child in the way that he should go. There is a way to go. There are principles for parenting.
Successful child-rearing is not necessarily clearly seen when someone is still a child. The most telling results come “when he is old.” What kind of a person does the child become?
Everyone has free will. But as the years stretch out we begin to favor patterns, habits. We begin to use our energy more selectively. And change takes energy. Statistically, people become conservative, conserving energy, initiating less change than before.
The training up of a child is begun by the parents or legal guardians but completed by the child himself. Your first 18 or 21 years may be spent under the direction of others, but the remainder of your life is spent completing the process. Child-rearing is basically phase I of your own character development. You yourself accomplish phase II.
Hiding the Child
Here is something that Paul wrote in Hebrews 11:23:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.
See the hiding part? The government of Egypt was no friend to believers in God. Far from it; Egypt had embarked on a calculated plan to break the Hebrews. The government decreed murder; newborn male children were to be slaughtered. What did the Hebrew parents do? What any god-fearing parent would do: they hid the child.
We are to hide the child as well. That is, we are to protect the child against dangers and bad influences. God urges us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1, 2). Conformity is contrasted with transformation. That is, conformity to the world means not undergoing a renewal of mind. Conformity is a process. The child does not start out conformed to the world, he learns it, experiences it. His human nature is shapable.
If he is left to watch the same television programs, to be taught the same principles of competition, to see the same videos, to be placed for hours under persons and settings whose values are not the values of the transformed mind, then those are the influences that will shape him. When the other neighbor kids have first-person shooter video games, he will want one too, not just because that is the popular thing, but because of the violence he has seen countless hours of on the television set in his home.
Isn’t it interesting that originally, God placed Adam and Eve in a pleasant garden? And Adam’s first words were not, “Does this have cable?” or, “Where is the high-speed internet connection?” Eden was a classroom and but few were its rules. Eden was a place where the mind could be shaped in God’s way. News from all over the universe was not continually scrolling across the sky; no electronic buzz filled the air. There was the sound of the gentle breeze and of living animals safe from predators. The books were not on the desk; Eden was the book. The garden itself was an illiustration of God’s values. What then about our homes? What do the arrangements say about our values? How well are we hiding our children?
Amram and Jochabed hid Moses. They were in violation of the decree of the state. How did they accomplish this? The Scripture said that they took this step and preserved his life, by faith. They acted in the child’s favor in spite of enormous pressure, even pressure from the state. The training of the child was more important than their own lives; his protection from danger was paramount.
We cannot assume anything about that the values that others place around our children. Like reproduces like.
You may have heard of a recent California court case. The ruling was that California parents do not have a Constitutional right to home-school their children. Quoting from the decision, we are told that “A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare.” (http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B192878.PDF).
Is this as it should be? Does the state own our children? Do we agree with the state’s views on what good citizenship is? On what true patriotism is? On what the meaning of “loyalty to the state” is? And when the day comes in answer to Bible prophecy when obedience to a National Sunday Law is considered to be good citizenship, patriotic, and an indicator of loyalty to the state, what will state schools be teaching then?
That is in the future but what about in the past? Was it patriotic during WWII for the United States government to place 120,000 Japanese living in America in internment camps, for these families to lose their properties and have their constitutional rights violated (Article 1, Section 9; also 5th Amendment)? Was it patriotic for the government to conduct secret radiation testing on thousands of Americans without their consent in the 1940s? A lengthy list of such things could be generated. A United States Supreme Court decision was delivered in 1857 that upheld slavery. In fact, a long list of occasions could be offered to show that the United States has not always been and is not always right in all that it does, and that it has often preyed upon its citizens rather than protecting them. I cannot find a Scripture that says “trust your children’s values to the state.” The facts of history and common sense tell me that my attention is required if I would train up my children to have high moral values. I cannot assume that the state will do this for me. Rather, I know that a day will come in which the state will tell us that we must obey it rather than conscience. And I know what my decision will be.
We may be thankful for the freedoms that we presenty have, but we may also be sure that the quality of our liberty today is less than it should be. It is true that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and if we are honest, we will recognize that we have not been so vigilant.
Exposing the Child
But hiding the child is not the whole picture. Consider Proverbs 6:6-8:
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
We must not only hide our children from danger, but expose them to opportunity. They must, according to their age, be given space to make their own decisions, to learn from mistakes. We must guide them so that they have learning opportunities. We need to show them how to study for themselves, help them learn how they can apply discernment for themselves. We must permit them to learn how to be their own people. It would not be sound parenting to hide them from all influences and to control all their thinking. In earlier years we exercise more control, in later years, less.
Having Your Personal Stuff in Order
There are other risks. Everyone has known a neighbor or friend who was reliving their childhood in the lives of their children. We have all seen the parent who wants his child to be a star on the playing field, the home-run hitter, the star quarterback. But are these things what the child wants? How careful we must be that any of our own unresolved personal issues do not bring staleness to the childhood of others.
Another danger, and very unfair to the child, is for one parent to seek to enlist the child on their side of a conflict. Any disagreements or conflicts between spouses, or perceived defects or faults of our spouses, should not be discussed with our children. How easy it is to begin to portray ourselves as good to our spouse’s bad. This is completely unfair to the child. Do not involve your children in your interpersonal disputes.
Another great failing for some is inappropriate talk about others in the presence of our children.
Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt.” Is our speaking grace-filled? Are we preserving the good reputation of others? Or are we training ourselves and our children to be critical, fault-finding, judgmental? Parents set the example; children inevitably follow.
Which brings us back again to this unfortunate truth: but few of us had an ideal childhood training. Most of us must, after becoming adults, relearn, or learn for the first time, how to live. Only if you have your house in order can you pass that order on to your children.
Consequently, since we are all still getting life figured out, we must help each other grow. Those with experience are not just one resource among many, but I would say that they are the best resource among many. I have learned more about how to live from church members elder to me than from anyone else.
Young parents, make friendly connections with church members who are elder to you. They have insight and wisdom that was earned at great cost. They would gladly help you keep from repeating mistakes they had made. They are still growing and learning too. But few of us were raised as Christians from the cradle. Besides Christian experience there is life experience—the sum of years. Young people, find the quiet fathers and mothers in Israel and add them to your life. Begin to add new friendships with other age categories. And those who are increasing in years, I hope you are patient and willing to help.
Transmitting the Christian Legacy
Judges 2:10 warns us: “And there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel.” That is, one generation did not successfully pass on the values of serving God that they had had. In fact, it is only after this tragedy came to pass and a period of chaos ensued that the people eventually became insistant on having a human king, which thing God did not want.
As usual, it is God’s system of order or ours. And when we go with ours, the kingdom of God suffers. We cannot afford to assume that state schools or even church schools will make up for our lack of parenting. I assure you: they won’t.
For any generation, such a failure would be a curse. For us, doubly so. Remember, God’s plan for us is different. Isaiah tells of our work: “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:12). Our work is to return to the ways of our Maker. We are to be reformers in a world and a church that is slow to reform. We are to be restorers in a world and a church that is slow to restore. We are to be awake in a day when the willingness to be distinct and to stand for something that is out of the mainstream is waning, and when the people of God are, for their want of character, unduly concerned about how those who do no believe will perceive them.
Which brings us to one more thought. We must train up our children in the way they should go and when they are old, they will not depart from it. So says the Scripture. But when is the “when they are old” part? The hymn reminds us that when we’ve been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun, we’ll have no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun. You see, after our characters have been formed, we will not depart from them.
Every person has free will. We can counteract the good training of our parents. But will we want to? That is a key question. Will the lives of our parents, as we remember them, be recollections of Christian behavior, or bring us suspicions about the reality of their conversion?
Perhaps the most down to earth advice I have heard was from one who was a member here for many years, who told me that the most important rule of parenting was to yourself be converted. If you are converted every day, and remain in connection with the Spirit of God throughout the day, then your example will be the example of a concerted person throughout the day. Here is the basis for true Christian parenting: converted parents. Converted parents will be invested parents. They will spend and be spent so that their children can have the benefits of a preparation that cannot be had in any other way than by the investment of our most valuable resource in our children: our time.
In the training, we ourselves will grow and in the giving we will become more like Jesus.
Time does not permit every aspect of parenting to be addressed in one sermon; far from it. I have said little about the church school or about prayer, or a hundred other important things. But this is a topic we must address. How can the last generation be any different if we do not make it any different? O, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers in Israel, parents and children young and old, remember this high calling and let us keep on the march to Zion. May not one little one be left behind. GCO
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