Parental Responsibilities – the Blessing and Burden of having Children

It was with some conviction that King George V stated a view that few of today’s leaders would dare to endorse, ‘The foundations of national glory are set in the homes of the people and only remain unshaken while family life is strong and pure’. The broken homes of the very nation he addressed no longer contribute significantly to his nation’s glory.

In the years 1776-1789 Edward Gibbon, probably the first modern historian of ancient Rome, published his masterly work in six volumes - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It provided an analysis of why Rome fell so suddenly and unexpectedly. His reasons were five, the first of which was the rapid increase in divorce and its undermining of home life. Two years earlier than the publication of Gibbon’s first volume, the often-profligate Robert Burns in his poem ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’, described a family setting that sadly is now virtually unknown in the Scottish nation. He noted how:

The priest-like father
reads the sacred page,
Then, kneeling down to
Heaven’s Eternal King,
The saint, the father,
and the husband prays.

Fondly he recalled scenes that he never tried to re-create in his own home, and concluded:

From scenes like these,
Old Scotia’s grandeur springs,
That makes her lov’d at home,
rever’d abroad.

Diligently teaching the commandments

No unprejudiced reader of the five books of Moses could harbour any doubts as to the importance of the family. Sadly, Genesis has to record that not all of the patriarchs lived in the light of the creatorial institution of marriage. Notwithstanding, Moses faithfully tells us of the disruption that bigamy brought into Abraham’s home and Jacob’s family circle. Under law, there were certainly obligations upon fathers and upon children, and to a large extent, it would seem, these were observed. The degree to which these obligations were demanded of Israel is best illustrated from Deuteronomy chapter 6, where through Moses the Holy Spirit provides an exposition of that greatest of the commandments, ‘The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might’, Deut. 6. 4-5.

Moses’ first demand was that ‘the commandments … be an affair of the heart, and not merely of the memory’. The second requirement was to teach diligently; the verse states, ‘And thou shalt teach them (these words) diligently unto thy children’. But more than diligence was involved, as the verbs ‘teach’ and ‘talk’ imply skill and intimacy. The parent is seen in regular contact with his children in both the evening and the morning. Whether at home or journeying from place to place the company of children and parent is assumed. The diligent parent would use these opportunities to teach by repetition the commandments of the Lord he loved. The patient, prudent, pious parent would by conversation and discussion ensure his family would imbibe the Law of the Lord. It has been observed that the parent must teach ‘diligently, accurately, repeatedly, naturally, (and) personally’; and of course in love.

What a responsibility on a parent! The chapter does not finish without noting the responsibility upon the son to be an inquiring son, ready to ask the question, ‘What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgements which the Lord our God hath commanded you?’ Deut. 6. 20. What a responsibility on a son or daughter! Little wonder Deuteronomy chapter 6 has been called ‘the Magna Carta of the home’, a home of love and learning!

A glad father, a wise son

It was the wise king Solomon to whom the task was given by the Spirit of God to develop more fully some of the obligations upon a parent. Sadly, he had seen in his father’s home how a stubborn, rebellious son, could be the offspring of a godly father, Deut. 21. 18. His own father had to own that his house was not pleasing to God, 2 Sam. 23. 5. Solomon wrote extensively in Proverbs of the wise son that would make a glad father as well as of the foolish son that would be ‘heaviness (grief or heartbreak) to his mother’, Prov. 10. 1; 15. 20, see also Prov. 13. 1; 17. 25. The book ends with a picture of a wife of priceless worth who in the absence of her husband provides for her children, so that they and her husband bless her. Her fear of the Lord is doubtless of influence upon her children. The instruction of the father and the law of the mother are both necessary, Prov. 1. 8; 6. 20. Both parents should take account of the individual characteristics of the child, ‘Train up a child according to his way: and when he is old he will not depart from it’, Prov. 22. 6 lit. The Jews apply the verse to education ‘for the way in which he is to spend his life’, i.e., no matter the occupation he is to follow. In every aspect of a child’s development, lovingly and tenderly the parents were to shape him or her to honour their Creator and Saviour.

Every Hebrew parent should have realized that their children were ‘a heritage of the Lord’, Ps. 127. 3, and that theirs was the same commission as Jochebed received, ‘Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages’, Exod. 2. 9. To some degree, Eli, Samuel, David and other godly men felt the pain of having laboured in vain to fulfil that commission. What consolation they would have found in Isaiah’s later prophecy. He records the divine lamentation, ‘I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me’, Isa. 1. 2. The setting of the verse tells us that the words are more than a lamentation they are an accusation laid before a court comprising the heavens and the earth, the legal basis of the trial being Deuteronomy 21. 18-21, (see above). From Isaiah chapter 1 we learn that even the best of fathers may have a rebellious son.

The Lord’s teaching

The Lord Jesus Himself acknowledged that even the ‘evil’ exhibited features towards their children that would win our approval, ‘What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?’ Matt. 7. 9. The Christian commitment to the family is no less than the highest of Judaistic ideals. The Jew endorsed, at least outwardly, God’s standards for the family; after all the family is a creatorial institution, established before Satan laid siege to that first family, and is still respected by most as the building block of a stable society. Not surprisingly the New Testament underlines the primary responsibilities of the nuclear family: Matt. 15. 4 ff.; Eph. 5. 22-6. 4; Col. 3. 18-21, etc. It makes clear how husbands and wives, parents and children should relate to each other. But the New Testament also speaks of the extended family, see Mark 1. 29-30 ff., for care of widows and grandparents, 1 Tim. 5. 4. Accordingly, every force that would destroy families is condemned, so Paul lists in 1 Timothy 1. 9, ‘smiters of fathers and mothers’ JND, among those who commit sins like murder, prosti-tution, kidnapping etc.. And, he also warns, perilous times will bring ‘disobedience to parents’, 2 Tim. 3. 2, but in Christian circles family disarray is not to be condoned, 1 Tim. 3. 4, 12; Titus 1. 6. Albeit, the claims of Christ might ‘set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother’, Matt. 10. 35.

The Christian father, the Christian son

What is the New Testament perspective? Paul expected Christian parents to have believing children not accused of riot. But in order that that expectation be realized both parent and child must obey the New Testament teaching given to regulate family relationships. What is expected of the father? He must not:

  1. habitually provoke his children to resentment, Eph. 6. 4.
  2. habitually provoke them to anger, Col. 3. 21.
  3. habitually cause them to be discouraged, Col. 3. 21.

But he is to bring up, to nourish with tender care, his child ‘in (the) nurture and admonition of (the) Lord’, Eph. 6. 4. The noun ‘nurture’ is a word of discipline or government, translated ‘chasten’ in Heb. 12. 5-8. Education and discipline are involved in parental nurturing, as Solomon understood, Prov. 13. 24. ‘Admonition’ is the word of guidance; its verbal form is translated ‘warn’ in four of its eight occurrences, ‘admonish’ in the other four. It may involve the word of encouragement but also, where necessary, reproof or blame or warning. The qualifying phrase is important – ‘in the Lord’: thus, in the Christian family the child is not just in the school of life but in the school of God.

What are the child’s responsibilities in the home?

Obedience is required of the child. The Preacher Solomon said, ‘Woe to thee, O land when thy king is a child’, Eccl. 10. 16. He acknowledged that the child’s lot was to obey, not to be obeyed. If that child has trusted the Lord, that obedience is to be ‘in the Lord’, Eph. 6. 1. What then is obeying ‘in the Lord’? It is more than was demanded in the Old Testament, for it involves the recognition of the Lordship of Christ. Paul adds: ‘this is right’, so it is a question of righteousness. He also quotes the fifth commandment: ‘Honour thy father and mother’. Clearly, honouring parents is not just a case of outward acts; there must also be inward feelings, for honour is one of the ways love expresses itself. Paul adds one other feature of Christian obedience. Not only is it a question of righteousness and of love; it is also the ‘first commandment with promise’, Eph. 6. 2.

May God be merciful to every family that no Christian father or mother has the sadness of bidding farewell to a son bound for the far country; or the grief of hearing him say ‘I will not go’ when the loving father says, ‘Go work today’. May each mother and father have the joy of their children rising up to call them blessed, Prov. 31. 28. And may each child be able, like Solomon, to speak to God of his parents’ walk in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart, 1 Kgs. 3. 6.


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