In the last year we watched the horrible stories in West Paducah, Ky; Jonesboro, Ark., Pomona California and Springfield Oregon. Children killing children. In a little more than two years time, in nine separate incidents a handful of students killed 21 people and injured at least 46 others. What in the world is going on?
Teen suicides continue to rise at epidemic proportions. Up to 500,000 teens choose death each year. Suicide has increased 300% since 1960. Things are so bad that the problem of suicide begins in children as young as six years old! Something is drastically amiss.
US News and World Report published a comparison of what teachers said were the top disciplinary problems among students in 1940 versus in 1990. In 1940 the top problems were: Talking out of turn, Chewing gum, Making noise, Running in the halls, cutting in line, dress-code violations and littering. In 1990 the list was quite a bit different: Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, Pregnancy, Suicide, Rape, Robbery, Assault.
Schools are forced to arm themselves with metal detectors and teachers are leaving their profession in droves because of the violent attitude of their students. It is nothing, even in our own schools to hear students screaming obscenities at a teacher.
Certainly part of the trouble has come because of the erosion of the family in America. And that is why these few verses in Colossians are so important to us. We have needed clear teaching about the family more than we do at the present time. We have looked at the relationship between husbands and wives and now we turn to parents and children. Much like with husbands and wives we need both sides of the coin for balance but this week we are going to look at children. Next week parents.
The passage before us is clear and to the point: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” The first question we must ask is this: What does the word “children” mean. As I understand it, the word for children refers to anyone who is still under parental guidance. In other words, if you are living at home you are included in this command.
But I contend that these words really have something for each of us. When we become adults we no longer are required to obey everything our parents say, there are still some responsibilities. That’s why I call the message: “To the Children in All of Us”. I hope there is something for each of us in these verses today.
As I said, the command is simple: “obey in everything for this pleases the Lord.” Children are commanded to listen to and do what their parents tell them. But most children today would respond to such counsel with a defiant, “Why should I?” Some would say things like, “My parents don’t know nuthin'” or “My parents are stupid!” I give you three reasons why we have an obligation under the Lord to obey.
CHILDREN MUST LEARN TO RESPECT AUTHORITY
In the ten commandments God says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” This idea is so important it is one of the “Big Ten”. Respect for authority is a key principle throughout the Bible. God tells us that respect for parents is the key to long and fruitful living. Once respect for authority is lost, a society crumbles. And this respect begins in the home. A child who is allowed to dishonor his/her parents will spend their lives rebelling against authority. The idea of right and wrong will become blurred.
The Bible was so insistent on this principle listen to the counsel it gives:
- Exodus 21:15, 15 “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.
- Exodus 21:17 “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.”
- In Leviticus 20:9 we read, “‘If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.”
- Prov. 30:17 “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.”
We consider these words to be extreme and maybe a little barbaric. However, we miss the point: respect for authority in the home is essential to a society. To honor someone is to place great weight on their value and their counsel.
Practically, honoring our parents means,
- speaking of them and to them with respect. No parent should tolerate disrespect from their child. A child that is abusive or disrespectful needs to be shown the negative consequences of such behavior in no uncertain terms. Young People, this also refers to when you are talking about your parents to your friends. They are not your “old man” or “old lady” or any of the other things you might call them. They are your mother and father and deserve your respect. But please note that this respect does not end when we leave home. Solomon writes, Prov. 23:22 “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” Though we change our relationship with our parents when we leave home . . .we should still honor and respect them.
- Honoring our parents means being aware of and concerned for their feelings. Young people, everything you say and do reflects either positively or negatively on your parents. The Proverbs tell us: “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.” (Pr. 10:1) We honor our parents much like we honor our Lord – by living appropriately. Most children don’t give much thought to the impact their behavior has on their parents (or anyone else). The child who is seeking to honor their parents remembers that their actions reflect on their parents.
- Honoring your parents means being grateful for the things you are given. We tend to take for granted the food, the provisions, the chauffeuring around, the care while you are sick, the encouragement received. Every once in a while, a person who is honoring their parents, makes it a point to say, “Thanks”. A person who honors their parents notices their efforts and is grateful.
Once we leave home we are responsible for making our own decisions. But we are still called to honor our parents. In 1 Timothy 5:4, Paul writes, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.”
Perhaps your parent is in a Nursing home. It is hard to go see them because they are different. They don’t understand why they can’t go home. They sometimes get angry or weepy. Sometimes they may not even know who you are. But do you understand that you honor them when you go see them anyway? This kind of thing is hard, but it pleases the Lord.
I’ll never forget watching my mother care for her mother in our home. She would clean soiled sheets, care for ulcerated legs, and repeat things endlessly. I remember how my dad would drive the 45 minutes to see his mother almost every Sunday. It wasn’t convenient and at times it was frustrating . . . but he was honoring his mother. What a grand lesson they taught me. Do you understand parents, that you teach your children about honoring you by the way you honor your parents?
CHILDREN MUST BE TAUGHT GODLINESS
There is an erroneous notion that children are born innocent. The idea is that children are born like a blank slate. If they are nurtured appropriately, they will be wonderful and productive members of society. In other words, kids will all be great if parents and society will just keep from messing things up. Therefore, anything a child does that’s wrong is not their fault but the fault of the home or society in which they were raised. We hear that these children were raised in homes where parents were overly strict (by whose definition of “overly”?), or where these children faced unfair rejection by society. The result of this popular mindset it the society we are now living in.
The Biblical understanding is much different from this.
- In Psalm 51:5, David writes, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
- Genesis 8:21 “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”
- In Ephesians 2:3 we read, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
Children are not born with a hunger for God. The Biblical teaching is this: sin is so pervasive that it reaches even into the womb. We have to teach a child to pray, to respect, to share, to love. But have you noticed that you don’t have to teach a child to spit, or swear, say “mine”, or throw temper tantrums. It all comes naturally. Every child is a potential savage. Any child, if left to their own devices could become the next playground killer. Children need to be instructed in Godliness. It does not come naturally.
Have you ever heard a parent say they were not going to teach their children the things of God because they wanted their children to decide these things for themselves? They figured when their children got older they could more accurately choose. But that is nonsense.
What if we took this same approach with hygiene? Since we do not want to prejudice our children we decide we are not going to force our children to change their diapers, take a bath, brush their teeth, wash their hands, cover their mouth when they cough or use a handkerchief when they have a cold, wash their clothes or clean up their room. Instead we want to let them decide for themselves. What would happen? Our children would be diseased, dirty and no one would want to be around them.!
Our children are not facing neutrality in other areas of life. Everywhere they turn, the Devil’s influence is seen. They see it on television, in the books they read, in the school yard, and yes . . . even in their own hearts. This is why God tells us that we must teach our children from an early age. Parents offer the life preserver that can keep their children from spiritual hardness. The problem is not as much television as it is parents surrendering their influence to the TV tube.
What about children with non-Christian parents? Children from non-Christian homes desperately need Christian friends, relatives, and teachers. They need to learn from someone that their life is not just a chance happening. Someone needs to tell these children that Jesus loves them. That’s why we have put such a premium on developing a good youth program. That’s why we consider outreach to be so vital. If they do not hear, they will have no hope.
Young people, don’t resist your parents when they seek to encourage your spiritual life. They do so not to be mean . . . they love you and want you to know the God that loves you and who wants to guide your life. And adults, do not forsake your responsibility. Keep listening to your own parents who have walked with the Lord for many years. The insights they have gained will enrich your own walk with God.
CHILDREN NEED A MATURE PERSPECTIVE
In the book of Proverbs we read these words, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (22:15) In other words, children are unable to choose that which is best for them. They lack the perspective and insight that chooses correctly.
Many of you are offended by these statements. You are convinced that your parents don’t understand anything. You believe they are simply passing down speeches that they were given when they were children. The idea that your parents have a more mature perspective is absurd to you. But you parents do have a better perspective simply by virtue of the fact that they have lived longer than you. Most of what you experience they have already experienced.
Your parents have dated. They have been “dumped”. Your parents have known what it was like to be broke, what it was like to have the influence of friends around them. Your parents know what it was like to get in trouble. Most of them could (but probably won’t) tell you stories you would not believe. They have seen, they have experienced, they have learned. They may not understand your music. They may not understand your friends . . . but they do have a wisdom that can benefit you.
Children have a limited perspective and therefore often do foolish things. Let me give you an example: If you gathered your children and told them that they could eat whatever they wanted for the next week, what would happen? Would they stop and seek to balance fruit, vegetables and protein? Of course not! They would shovel in the Snickers, drown it with Mountain Dew, and surround it with chips, donuts and all kinds of other “junk food”. And, before the week was even out they would be worn out, green in the face, with their head in a toilet. They need guidance.
The story is told about a dad that was taking mom out for dinner. He was going to leave the children home by themselves for the evening but was concerned that they might misbehave. So this is what he said to them: “Look, I left a wooden spoon up on the table in my bedroom. Now if any of you misbehave I want you to go upstairs and whack yourselves with the spoon.” I’m sure that dad expected to come home and see his children with red spots on their arms from this self discipline!
Do you see how foolish it is to simply “turn our children loose?” They need guidance. They need parameters. They need to learn discipline and at times have to be shielded. What good parent has not had to say, “You can’t do this . . . and responded to the subsequent “Why?” with “because I said so”? The reason we do that is because some things can’t be explained. I understand that now . . . but I didn’t then.
Let me make a couple of concluding comments,
Parents, You must lead in the home. You must not give up your position to public opinion or skilled manipulation. God has set you in a position to lead and guide your child(ren). Do not abandon your role. You have the responsibility to teach your children. It may be easier to throw up your hands and say that it is hopeless. But it is not the loving thing to do.
To the Young People
- Your Parents Know More than You Think. You may think they are old-fashioned. You may believe that they don’t know anything. But they have learned some things along the way. They have a perspective you need. They have made mistakes they want you to avoid. They have experienced pain they want to shield you from. So here’s something novel. Ask your parents for their opinion . . . and then listen to them. When your parents tell you do something you don’t understand or agree with . . . trust their judgment.
- Your Parents Love You More than You can Imagine. I know there are some bad parents out there. There are some people so absorbed with themselves that they don’t love anyone but themselves. But that is the exception rather than the rule. There is a bond that develops with a child the first moment that child is placed in your arms. Their counsel is anchored in love. I know you think the curfews are stupid . . but your parents are trying to keep you safe and help you learn to set limits in your life. I know you think dragging you to church is unfair . . . but they are simply teaching you that God’s way is the way that leads to life and happiness. Someday you will understand. As much as you think you love your boyfriend or girlfriend . . . your parents love you more than that. The counsel they give is not anchored in anything but love.
Even if you have no other reason for obeying your parents . . . . remember it is a behavior that pleases the Lord. Last week, the youth group challenged us with the question: “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a time well spent and a message much needed. But this week, may I turn the question back on you?
At the end of Luke 2 we read about Jesus when he was twelve years old. He had gone with his parents to Jerusalem for the annual feast. Jesus ended up at the temple and was visiting with the teachers there. He was engaging them in talks about theology. He was doing, if you will, what God had sent Him to do.
His parents had probably come to the feast with lots of friends and relatives and so when Jesus wasn’t around they didn’t worry. They had small children to care for. They assumed Jesus was with family or friends. When the group headed home they still assumed that Jesus was with someone else. Perhaps they weren’t very attentive parents. Perhaps they should have known better. But after the first day of travel they looked for him and couldn’t find him. They headed back to Jerusalem probably in a panic. They looked frantically for three days. Finally they found him in the temple.
Now look at what happened. His parents scolded Him (this often happens when we are afraid). Jesus was confused. He said, “didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” But his parents did not understand.
Now here’s what I want you to see. His parents didn’t understand, but he “went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” Why? Because it is right and because it is pleases the Lord. So, now that you know what Jesus would do, will you follow his example?