Having trodden boldly on to the minefield of marriage last week, we continue today in this highly sensitive area of personal relationships. Specifically, parents and children, and here we see Paul appeal to the 10 commandments to reinforce his instruction to children to obey their parents. The reference is to Deuteronomy 5.16, where the command of the Lord to obedience is linked to the promise of prosperity.
I was listening to John Bevere speak on this very subject the other week, and he made a very interesting point, that obedience to parents comes higher up the list of commands than the more obvious ones such as murder, theft, adultery, perjury and greed. In fact, the obedience to parents bit is the link command between the four that specifically refer to our relationship with God, and the five that refer to our relationships with people.
Could it be that this is because a rebellious attitude toward parents reflects, and is the fruit of, a rebellious attitude toward God? Is it mere coincidence that the generations, namely my age-group and below, that make an art form of selfishness, that wear the ASBO with pride, that consider it fair game to vandalise and destroy public property, that think it weird to give up our seat on the bus for someone older and less mobile, are the same generations that have largely written God out of the script for our lives?
The moral and spiritual cancer that is secular pluralism, that lie of the devil that the media, the authorities and, sadly, even some parts of the church have swallowed whole, threatens to destroy the world it pretends to liberate. It rejects and ridicules the concept of respect for the authority of God and the authority of the Bible on the one hand, and respect for human authorities, including the authority of parents, on the other hand.
We are encouraged to question and protest, as long, that is, as we don’t question and protest against what the liberal establishment ordains. We are commanded, at all costs, to be tolerant of all shades of opinion – except, of course, opinions based on scripture. What sort of demonic madness is it that portrays as bigoted staring-eyed dangerous extremists those of us who oppose the murder of children for no other crime than that their imminent arrival in the world doesn’t fit the lifestyle of the prospective parents?
What sort of perverse mentality is it that vilifies as fundamentalist loonies those of us who still believe God intended marriage for one man and one woman, rather than any other combination of gender or arithmetic! As my outrageously politically-incorrect rugby-playing son-in-law puts it, Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!
But since we have now contrived [!] to mention the original human residents of earth, and for the moment let’s put to one side any vacuous debates as to whether the story of the Garden of Eden is literal history or brilliantly incisive and divinely-inspired parable, note that their sin was a very familiar one.
They refused to accept the authority of God. The story, as you know, tells of how God gave Adam and Eve complete freedom to enjoy the beauty of His creation, to prosper in it and take care of it, but to do so under the protective umbrella of His instruction. Just don’t touch that one tree there, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
That’s too much information. That will blow your head away. That knowledge will kill you. That’s my exclusive domain, said the Lord. Leave that to me. But no! What is it about us humans that when we’re told not to do something, it just whets our appetite to do that very thing? Don’t touch that quiche, says Alexis, it’s for the work. Now I don’t even like quiche, but I end up eyeing it from 10 different angles because I can’t have it!
In Genesis we read of how Eve chose to listen to a talking snake rather than to God, which was pretty dumb, and then Adam compounded the felony by choosing to listen to his wife rather than to God, and that, in the circumstances, was pretty dumb too, but let’s not go back to last week’s controversial message about submission!!!
Please listen carefully. The fall of man was NOT essentially about one piece of fruit. The fall of man was over a rotten rebellious attitude to God, a refusal to submit to and respect the authority of the Creator over the creation. Nothing changes. That is still the fundamental problem facing humanity today – God’s children being disobedient to Our Father. Now do you see why obedience to parents is a big deal for God?
Just as last week we saw that the husband-wife relationship was intended to mirror of that between Christ and his church, so today we see that the parent-child relationship parallels God the Father and his earthly children. The more we submit to God, enjoy the warmth of His love, and in the power of His Spirit obey His Word, the more we are enabled to enjoy his gracious gifts, blessing, good health, prosperity in every area.
If we are rebellious against God, it doesn’t affect in the slightest his love for us. Indeed it was the very fact of our rebellious nature that moved his to send His Son Jesus to die in our place, to take the punishment we deserved, to pay the price for our forgiveness, that every prodigal son, every prodigal daughter, might be welcomed back into the family home of faith. Obedience to earthly parents is good in itself. It recognises their greater experience of life, and wisdom learned in the hard school of knocks.
It’s sometimes said that the smart person learns from the mistakes of others, the average person learns from their own mistakes, but the stupid person never learns and keeps repeating the mistakes. We as parents, who may belong in the average category, want our children to step up to the smart category and learn from our mistakes, but if they choose the path of rebellion, the outcome will be less satisfactory.
Another famous saying : when I was young, I was expected to obey my parents. Now, as a parent, I’m expected to obey my children. When do I get my turn!!
Moving swiftly on … Paul urges fathers not to exasperate our children. What a spoilsport! Does Paul not realise that our purpose on earth is to do just that, to embarrass them in front of all their friends by telling awful jokes, wearing awful clothes, playing awful music? What a bah-humbug you are, Paul!
And another thing. It’s only the dads who are thus told off, not the mums. What’s all that about? I think the key to this is that in Paul’s time the disciplinary function was in the hands – literally – of the fathers.
What lies behind this command is the need to keep discipline in balance, not to adopt a harsh and over-critical attitude, to ensure that rebuke and correction are seasoned with praise and encouragement. There are some whose concept of exercising discipline over their children is to beat them into submission. This leads to resentment, which one day will boil over and things will get ugly. Again, we are to remember that the model for the parent-child relationship is God’s relationship with us, based on sacrificial love.
No matter what we do, no matter what a mess we make of our lives, no matter how bad an attitude we take toward other people, ourselves, and even God, it does not alter the fact that God loves us in a way that is unconditional and unlimited. He has promised he will never leave us nor forsake us. He never gives anyone up as a lost cause. The blood of Jesus his Son avails to the full for anyone who will humble himself to receive it, no matter what baggage, what scars, what a trail of devastation lies in that person’s wake.
Just as I am, without one plea, but that your blood was shed for me – that’s the basis on which the Lord accepts us, the only basis on which the Lord accepts us. Our individual merits and Brownie points do not enter into the calculation at all, and the person who points to his own church-going, his own good deeds, his own perception of being better than anybody else as a basis of divine acceptance, is on the highway to hell.
But … the love of God that moves him to embrace us when our life is a disaster area is the same love that moves to him to change us for the better. He will speak to us from the pulpit, from the Bible, from the Christian media, from the church magazine, from a Christian relative or friend in the hope that we will freely embrace his correction. Only as a last resort will God remove the umbrella of his supernatural protection and allow our circumstances, the consequences of our mistakes, to be our teacher.
That same gentleness, patience and slowness to anger, that characterise God’s dealings with us should be the model of our disciplinary dealings with our children. We must try as hard as we can never to respond to situations in anger at what has happened, or in frustration at something else that’s going on in our lives. A clear head, a calm attitude, a quiet voice, but a determined demeanour, will get the job done far better than flying off the handle into emotional pyrotechnics. That seed produces a harvest of disrespect.
And correction will be accepted much more readily if it comes in a thoughtful and measured fashion from the same lips that are quick to offer praise, encouragement and affirmation on a regular basis. If all we ever do is growl at our children, if all we ever say is negative, you can be sure they will not listen to a word we have to say.
There is an opposite error we mustn’t ignore either, and that’s where we bottle out of confronting misbehaviour, where we duck issues entirely for fear of a negative reaction. That is the conduct of an insecure parent, and if it is not dealt with, it will likely result in an insecure child, unsure of safe boundaries. I think, if I may be so bold as to say so, that this is a mistake that step-parents are particularly prone to, as we try too hard to be liked, and so fail in the proper duty the children expect, and want, us to carry out.
Some of us, looking back over our record as parents, are not uniformly proud of how we have done. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and maturity, we see that consistent and measured discipline, balanced with affirmation and encouragement, have not been constant hallmarks of our dealings with our children, and we feel lousy about it.
Might that apply to any of us? Most of us, I guess. Are you ready for some therapy? Here it is – get over it. Accept the free gift of God’s forgiveness, and be aware that your children have a greater capacity to love us and forgive our human failings than you or I have to forgive our own. We probably did better, overall, than we thought. Of course, we’ve all made mistakes – sometimes big ones. But God has been there all along, even if we’ve not noticed. Nothing that has ever happened under our roof has been a shock to God’s system. He has always known we are work-in-progress.
What matters is getting things right now. Unless something truly awful and traumatic has happened, which is unusual, the best way of dealing with past mistakes is to accept the fact that you have been forgiven and live now according to what God has taught you, trusting God to heal any remaining hurts. There’s a wonderful verse in Joel 2.25 that I find a great comfort : I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.
Have the locusts of bad decisions on your part as a parent, or bad parenting inflicted upon you, eaten up the joy God intended you to find in your family life? Stop worrying about it, trust God the Healer, the Forgiver, the Restorer, the Deliverer, live now in the light of the revelation of His truth that you have received, and let Him deal with it. You can be sure of this – if you keep your trust in the Lord, He will ensure that the years to come are twice as glorious as the years you lost. He will repay you, with interest.
And that, I think, is where we leave it for today. Next week, we’ll look at relationships in the workplace – I know you can hardly wait for the next thrilling instalment!