HOW TO KEEP OUR CHILDREN FAITHFUL
by James W. Boyd
The Holy Spirit guided John the apostle to write the short epistle of Third John to Gaius about whom reports had come to John how Gaius walked in truth. Then John added, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (verse 4). John was speaking of those he had taught and brought to Christ. But who is not concerned about their own beloved and dear children? What people on earth would we be more interested in being faithful to God and on their way to heaven than our blessed children?
Our lesson on how to keep our children faithful is not to present a checklist where you do one thing, then the second, then the third, etc., like the directions you might follow in putting a piece of equipment together. There are many elements that are involved in rearing children properly, but you do not do one thing, set that aside, and then do the next. These many elements have to be done in concert, brought along together as a combination, in proper balance, with a mixing and blending of all pieces. Like growth, everything grows at the same time.
We have our children but a few precious years at the longest. We soon learn that the years go swiftly by, and soon, before we realize it, our children reach maturity and are gone from our daily guidance. We have but one opportunity to provide for them what is our duty to provide. If we miss that window of opportunity it does not return.
We Begin Before They Do
God intends children to be born of parents who are married to each other. God also wants children to be reared in homes where Christ reigns supreme. You should consider the possibility of your children in the selection of the one you marry. So that your home can be one where the will of the Lord is the guiding force and marry a Christian. How can the Lord rule when either the husband or wife, father or mother, is not a child of God? A divided home in the matters of greatest importance presents a serious handicap to children.
We Really Cannot Do It
It may seem strange in a lesson that teaches how to keep your children faithful to have to admit at the very start that we cannot do it. Even God does not keep His children faithful, that is, without the cooperation of the children. So it is with us and our children. We cannot obey the gospel for them, nor, once they have obeyed, can we be faithful for them. They must keep themselves faithful. We may help or we may hinder. Some are faithful in spite of their parents, and some are unfaithful in spite of godly parents. Some have been blessed to have had parents that assisted them to be faithful. But the bottom line is that each child is answerable to God for himself or herself.
“Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This passage places emphasis on parental responsibility in the upbringing of children, but it is also frequently misunderstood to imply the entire matter rests with the parent. That is not so. The passage presents three stages in the life of the child, two explicitly, and one implicitly.
There is the youthful stage when the parent must train. There are the older years when the child has matured to old age and holds firm to his convictions. But there are also the middle years, years in which the child must walk the way he has been trained. Whether they do that or not is their responsibility.
This being true, to keep our children faithful we must teach our children they are responsible before God. Standing before the judgment seat of Christ (Second Corinthians 5:10) includes them. Giving an account (Romans 14:12) includes them. They will answer for their own words, deeds, and know the consequences.
Therefore, they must make their own decisions about living God’s way. We would not want them to have a borrowed faith, that is, believing just because we believed. We want them to have their own deep-seated convictions that will guide them after we are gone. Otherwise, they will never be strong and stable.
Having their own faith does not mean having a faith that differs from our faith. When the parent follows the truth, and the child follows the truth, they will follow the same thing. But each is following the Lord for himself. It is the parent’s duty to give them the basis for making their decisions.
Emphasizing how we must teach them to bear their own responsibility does not lessen or minimize parental duty. Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” This underscores an essential truth that both parent and child must accept.
Children must learn that the parent is doing what God expects the parent to do when the parent teaches, guides, disciplines and instructs the child. The child must learn his parent is doing what is done in the best interest of the child and the child must submit to that arrangement as God’s will. Parents must launch the children on to the sea of life as fully prepared as they can make them.
Rearing children is somewhat like a coiled spring. When the child is born the spring is pressed beneath the hand of the parent and under the control. In time, the hand necessarily must be removed from the suppressed spring. Will it be removed at one bound and quickly, only to see the spring lunge in most any direction? Or will the hand be lifted slowly, and when removed, to see the spring stand just where it is supposed to stand? The time is coming when our hand will be lifted, our training time will be over, and the child will stand or fall. Consider what we must do that they may stand.
We have mentioned two matters of importance already: (1) Select a Christian for a mate and (2) teach them personal responsibility to God.
Teach Them of God
In the course of the child’s life his faith in God will be challenged. It is the duty of father and mother to teach the child of the existence of God and the evidences of His existence. He has left His footprints in nature (Romans 1:20). God is the Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Judge, and Authority. The child must learn that God is powerful, a God of love, grace, mercy, but also a God of justice, wrath, and holiness.
We sing, “There’s an all-seeing eye watching you.” God should not be presented as one who watches in order to catch someone in a fault. To be sure, He is aware of all sin. But, thankfully, God watches over us as a mother watches over the child; not to find fault, to punish, to scold, but to protect, provide, supply the needs. Psalm 33:18, “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy.”
God hates every false way (Psalm 119:104). He provides for the godly (Psalm 37:25). Our children need to know of the terror of the Lord (Second Corinthians 5:11), and the goodness and severity of God (Romans 11:22). How else will they come to respect God unless they have a knowledge of His nature? If your child learns about God it is up to you to see to it.
Must Know God’s Will
The Jews were commanded to keep their law before their children. Our children must know of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, concerning Christ, the plan of salvation, the way to worship, what godly living involves, about the church or kingdom. How else will they come to know right from wrong unless taught? How else will they know what God expects, approves, and disapproves unless you teach them? That is the parental duty. We are concerned, rightly so, about the education of our children, but education in what? Will they be educated in what matters most? Will they know the great Biblical accounts of the servants of God, the events that have framed the scheme of redemption, the revelation of things holy and sacred? Not unless parents teach them.
Give Them Self-Esteem
Children need to appreciate their worth, not by some “hyped up pep talk.” When I was young and played sports my father was always supportive and encouraging to me. But he never told me I was the best one on the field. I already knew better than that, and he would have lost credibility to have said that to me. But he urged me to always do the best that I could do.
The child is taught self-esteem when they are taught they are created in the spiritual image of God. Herein lies the dignity of human being and the value of the individual. Here is the basis for the sacredness of life and personal worth. Therefore, we and our children are distinctive from all else that God created. They matter and they must know they matter because this life is not all there is to their existence. They matter to God and they matter to you because they count. Each child is worth more than all the world because each is a precious soul (Matthew 16:26). This cannot be accomplished by degrading them, humiliating them, constantly finding fault with them, yelling at them. They have a quality like God. He is Spirit (John 4:24), and they are spirits as well as physical bodies.
Don’t Let This Disappoint You
A hard fact of life is that you will not be the first perfect parent. Furthermore, you will not have perfect children. (That does not come until grandchildren!). So ease up on yourself just a bit and try to relax. The “wise experts” on child-rearing in our day would have you believe that every single little matter that comes along is necessarily momentous and a life-determining situation. That is not so. There will be times when you will make mistakes, say the wrong things, react the wrong way. But much of that will be covered when your child knows you love him, you seek to provide for him, and care for him.
Do not refuse to apologize even to a child when you have done wrong or mishandled a situation. Children are not little adults, and should not be expected to act like adults. (Neither should adults act like children!). Remember, children have feelings, too. They are not to be badgered about with harsh words, cutting remarks, jerked about. You can hear some of the most awful things come from parents yelling at their children at little league games. How uncalled for!
The little fellows must be trained, corrected, disciplined, but they must also be treated with respect. It is hard for them to grow from a life of idealism into the world of realism where they learn everyone is not good, where every policeman is not honest, where every Christian is not pure, where every teacher is not fair, where you are not perfect as they seem to think when they are small. Don’t make it harder on them and destroy your communication with them by being overbearing, dictatorial and abusive.
From You They Learn to Respect Authority
Respect for authority, or the lack of respect, is learned in the home more than anywhere else. Parents are not just another friend to their children but they are parents, the authority of the home, and deserve respect and to be obeyed (Ephesians 6:1). You can be a friend and a parent at the same time, but never to the disposal of your parental position.
One day I was in my truck with one of my grandsons. James had a little run-in with some playmate, and evidently retaliated somewhat, which is unlike his character. But I told him that he was to return good for evil. He looked up at me and said with scepticism, "Who made that rule?” I told him that was God’s rule. Then he said, “Well, that makes a difference!” He was showing signs of having learned to respect authority.
Example, Word, and Deed
Deeds speak louder than words (James 2:18). Our words are drowned out by our deeds unless they are consistent with each other. One of the greatest memories a parent can give a child is a parent who was trying to live faithfully to his words, being fair, truthful, honest, loving, dedicated to what was right. We only create confusion in their developing minds when they hear us say one thing but see us doing the opposite.
Referring again to James on that same day, a car passed us and James asked, “Paw Paw, did you see that man in that car?” I noticed him but not much. I asked what caught his eye. He said, “He was smoking. My Daddy says it is wrong to smoke.” I told him his Daddy was absolutely correct. Then he said, “And my Daddy doesn’t smoke either.” Now what good would it have done for that child to be told it was wrong to smoke but see his Daddy smoke?
Another grandson was riding home from pre-school with a friend and the friend’s grandfather was driving, and smoking. Daniel said, “Your car stinks. When are you going to quit smoking?” Not bad for five years old, was it?
We must set the right example regarding the church. Take them, don’t send them to Bible school. One little boy asked his Father, “How old must I be before I can stay home from Sunday school like you?" What an example! Is it right to expect them to be what you do not even try to be? Do you know why some children have bad manners, are rude, use bad speech, show bad attitudes? Look at their parents. Do you know why some children have good manners, good speech and attitudes? Look at their parents. You cannot lead where you will not go! Dad once told me I could do what I saw him do. Quite a responsibility he took on himself, but that is the responsibility of a good parent.
First Things First
Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness....” We, as parents, must set the right priorities before our young so they will know what matters most. Unfortunately, not every child learns the proper priorities from home. The church must come before self, the world, pleasure, sports, friends. Family must come before peers, morality before lust, honesty before gain, worship before trips, visits, vacations, etc. School lessons are important but not as important as Bible lessons. Conviction surpasses convenience. What do you expect of them when they have been taught at home, shown time and again, that the things God wants for them is of less concern than other things? They may get mixed signals. For instance, one child asked her Mother, “Why do they always cancel church when we have company?"
Children glory to see their own parents participating in worship services, teaching classes, helping in the overall work. Without a word, they learn what matters to their parents and then it matters to them. I can never forget my Mother preparing the Lord’s Table, making the bread, and being involved in the work and worship of the church.
I recall as a small boy when the little church where we attended replaced the hand-fed coal stove in the basement with an automatic stoker feed. But one cold Saturday the thing went out. I went with my Dad and brother Bullington, the janitor, to fix it for Sunday. I was a big help because I held the flashlight. But I also learned what was of interest and concern to my Dad, and brother Bullington. It was the church and its welfare. That stays with you.
What Are You Teaching About Worship?
You know the hours of worship and they soon know them. Do they also know that their family will always respect them? You should not have to decide each time whether you are going to worship. That ought already be decided. You don’t decide each day whether school matters, or work matters. Why should it ever be questioned whether worship matters enough to attend?
Good habits can be learned just like bad habits. It may be difficult, especially for young parents, to gather up their children, get them ready, wrestle with them during services, but it pays dividends in the long run. They learn to respect things holy and pick up thoughts and impressions far more than we ever imagine.
Some have been heard to complain, “My parents made me go when I was young, now I don’t go.” Their parents probably made them wash the face, brush the teeth, eat their food, etc., but they still do it. Along with “making them go,” teach them it is not a mere duty and obligation, but a privilege to show God appreciation for His goodness toward them. Develop within them a loving attitude for serving God, making it more than a demand, even though He does demand It. It is a blessing! We become like that which we worship. Teach them to want to become more and more like God in their ways. That will help keep them faithful.
Do You Know Who Their Friends Are?
One area of concern to every responsible parent is the company their children keep. “Evil companions corrupt good morals” (First Corinthians 15:33. ASV). Teach them to “make friends of God’s children.” Sometimes we are disappointed even with children they meet at church. Let us learn, what our children do and where they go is not just our business. When it influences other children it becomes other’s business as well, and vice versa. Every parent ought keep his children so they will be a good influence on other children, and assist other children of Christian families to keep right. Peer pressure is important. How sad when young people “from church” are found saying and doing things contrary to Christianity and thereby being a bad influence on other Christian young people. It is the parents’ work to make sure that does not happen.
Send them to good Christian camps in the summer, provide for Christian association with activities centred around the church, make your home a place where their friends are welcome. Watch out for their schools events, their books, teachers, subjects studied and their progress. Supervise their entertainment about television. Why invite profanity, immorality, vulgarity and degeneracy into your living room? Don’t you care what you children absorb?
I once received a call from a person who had moved into the community who asked if we had a youth director to direct trips to Six Flags, play games, have parties, etc. I told him we had about a hundred such directors, but we called them parents. This is not the work of the church, but the work of the home, and parents must be about the Father’s business of attending to their home work. So many times today the children are being guided by people other than their own parents. You cannot shift that duty to other people even though others may help.
Be Careful How You Criticize the Church
We want our children to love the church. This is a part of staying faithful. But some never find anything right with the church. There is the divine side of the church that never needs improvement because God’s part of it is perfect. There will always be shortfalls in the behaviour of members because we are not a perfect people, but we keep trying. Some complain, grumble, find fault and criticize most everything and everybody about the church and then wonder why their children have so little respect for it. The elders don’t handle this right, the preacher is dry and dull, the song leader gets the songs too high, too low, he is too loud, too soft, makes poor selections, the members are a bunch of hypocrites, the most unfriendly people in town, pick, pick, pick, pick. One Sunday a family planned to have the preacher for dinner and the little boy told the preacher he knew what they were having for dinner. He said they would have buzzard because he heard his mother say they had to have that old buzzard for dinner today. Just how will that child see the church as he grows up? As one boy said to his Dad, “Why don’t you ask to preach next Sunday since you know how it ought to be done?”
It is fashionable among some, not only to find fault with members which can always be found, but now find fault with God’s design of the church, the worship services (they are called dull and boring even though they are according to God’s pattern). Bashing the church is the ministry of some. As my mother used to say, “Little bears have big ears,” and children hear such things and form attitudes accordingly. Then we ask why they are not favourably impressed with the church!
Troubles between members sometimes arise. That is not totally new. If such be the case with you, be extremely careful what you say about another member. Harsh words, cutting statements and accusations might mar the mind of your child if you display your anger and vengeance. It has been known for children to see members point their fingers and shout in the face of others venting their anger when differences arise. I have seen and heard this as a child and it puzzled me then.
We Must Not Compromise the Truth
Everyone knew where my Dad stood and why, and they knew he would stand. We learned that early. The truth is what counts. To sacrifice truth for unity and peace is treason. How unwarranted it is for the home to undercut the church or the church to undercut the home. But this too often happens, especially in such matters as drinking alcoholic beverages, the modern dance, immodest clothing, teaching about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The home and church should present a united front in these matters. It creates a conflict for the child and divides his loyalty if unity in not the case.
When error raises its head, we must stand for the truth, kindly but firmly. We must be found on the Lord’s side without compromise, fear or favor. We must defend the gospel. Only in this way will our children learn that truth is not negotiable. Unity must be founded on truth, otherwise, we lose our reason to exist. “Stand fast in the faith” must be one of our watchwords. We cannot choose what may be the easy or most popular way, but the way that is right. When you do that, at least in this matter, you have done your part.
Be Ready to Give Answer
Children can ask more questions, but by them they learn. It is the work of parents to provide correct answers. If you do not know the answer, do not try to pretend you do because they will eventually see through you. When you do not know, say so, but do not leave it there. Tell them you will find the answer together. Do not leave them to others to provide the answers to questions they ask. You may not know what might be planted in their minds. It is your job first. Do it. They have the right to ask and you have the task to answer.
Some questions are really puzzling, such as when one of our children asked his mother, “Why did God make poison ivy?” Try to handle that one.
You might have to postpone the answer to some questions, such as a six year old asking if he can be baptized. You may have heard of the father who told his boy that he wanted to talk to him about where babies came from. The boy answered, “All right, Dad. What do you want to know?”
To be able to answer their questions about the soul, God, church, truth, you must study. Study for your own sake, but for their sake as well. Provide for them sound literature to read and encourage them to study. Have good source material in the home available to them.
The Value of a Strong Home
We cannot overstate the value of a strong heritage, where home is a haven, a place of security and love. Home is where it is always safe. Regardless of what befalls them at school, church, in the world, on the field, they know home is the place to go.
One of the greatest gifts that parents can give children is that their children know their parents love each other, are faithful to each other, and that the prime goal of marriage and the home is that every member goes to heaven.
Some children do not know how a home ought to be, never having been in one that operates as God would have it. Children deserve their mother’s time. Even though society draws mothers from the home and from their children, nothing and nobody provides the strength, security and care for children like a godly mother. Sometimes necessity calls the mother from the home, but make sure it is because of need, not greed. Faithful children, a good parent-child relationship, is worth more than the material gain this world affords.
It May Not Always Work
Sadly, not all children respond to even this serious approach to their rearing. But usually such children will never turn against their parents or what their parents stand for, but they will uphold the same eternal and fundamental principles they have learned at home. Parents have been frustrated and wondered why some of their children are faithful and others are not. “I treated them just alike,” they are heard to say. That may the problem. They are not just alike. They even come into the family under different circumstances. They must be treated as individuals.
It is sometimes said the church is losing so many of her young people. It is true that many young people forsake the church. But the loss is not because of the church but because of the failure in the home. As goes the home, so goes everything else, including the church. The church does suffer loss, however.
We shall not succeed without the cooperation of our children. Nor shall we succeed if we try to do our part without God. If we be in Christ we have the privilege of the avenue of prayer. We need God’s help, and He is a help. We are assured of God’s providence. We should pray for our children.
Never a day passes that I do not take the name of every one of my children and grandchildren before the throne of Almighty God, beseeching Him to watch over them, protect them by His providence, asking that they might always be faithful. This is one of the most important things I can do on their behalf. Prayer is our way to communicate with God, and God hears, and will answer according to that which is best for us. Even our prayers must be according to His will, and our expectation of answers cannot be contrary to His will.
When we do these things, and other efforts could be mentioned, and do them persistently, patiently, consistently, faithfully, we will know the reward of faithful children. Then we will have possibly the greatest blessing we can have in this life, and be able to say along with John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”