Love The Little Ones is an excellent, insightful and Biblically rich four part sermon series, with notes, by Pastor Douglas Wilson. It is a wonderful resource on faithfully and joyfully training children. We have been greatly blessed by Pastor Douglas Wilson and his wife, Nancy Wilson, over the years. They have produced many wise Biblical resources for raising faithful, worshiping children. You can access these resources from our friends at Canonwired.
This is hands-down some of the best Biblical worldview parenting advice that I have read and listened to. Don't miss out.
Training and raising up the next generation to be Godly Christians is important. It is what the Lord requires of parents (Eph 6:1-3) and it is at the very heart of the Gospel (Luke 1:17, Matt 19:14). This duty is so important within the life of the Body that one of the requirements for Church eldership is success in raising faithful worshipers (Titus 1:6). This task may seem daunting at times. In fact it may feel impossible. But God is faithful and often times our feelings are eschewed. He works in and through covenant. He is faithful to us and requires our faithful obedience to His Law/Word (1 John 5:1-5). When fathers turn their hearts to the Law of God and their children (Luke 1:17) reform and revival will happen in Churches, communities and nations. If we really desire to reach our nation for Christ's crown and covenant we must not neglect raising up boys and girls to be men and women of deep, rich faith. Men and women who will submit every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5) and apply His Law to every aspect of faith and life (1 Cor 10:31).
Education of Christian children (2 Cor 7:14, Eph 6:1-3) is central to training/discipling them in the way they ought to go. You cannot send your children to Caesar for extensive and intensive training/discipleship and not expect them to turn out Roman soldiers. Yes, God is faithful and yes, He requires you to be faithful in how and who educates your children. Biblically, education is the role and responsibility of the parents. It certainly neither the role nor responsibility of the civil government.
Douglas Wilson touches on this point brilliantly in sermon IV: "In many Christian circles, it is commonplace to speak this way: 'We don't want to emphasize academics so much - we want to focus on character issues.' The problem with this is that it presents a false dichotomy. Academics is a character issue. It is the work that children have been assigned to do - for good reason - and to set it aside for the sake of "character" is really misguided. Picture a number of men sweating away with pick-axes and shovels, digging a ditch. Off to the side we see one of them leaning on his shovel, and we look long enough to tell that this is not a well-earned break. We might go over and ask him what he is doing, and, if we did, we would probably not expect him to reply that he is "emphasizing character instead." That is precisely the one thing he is not doing.
This said, it is cheerfully acknowledged that getting the academic work done is not the only character issue, but it is an indispensible character issue. "The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason" (Prov. 26:16). This can certainly apply to the parents or teachers as well."
Love The Little Ones I
The duties of a godly parent are profound and challenging. This is particularly the case when you are dealing with little ones who cannot explain anything to you. They don't know their own heart, and they could not tell you about if they did. This means we have to get our guidance from Scripture. And like everything else, parenting is completely dependent on the grace of God—but on this subject, it should be immediately obvious to us that we are dependent on the grace of God. But when that grace is operative, what does it look like?
"If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well" ( James 2:8).
"Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones" (Luke 17:1-2).
The context of James' injunction is interesting. He has just been talking about a biblical refusal to show partiality between rich and poor. And after this statement in our text, he moves on to give a general statement about heart attitudes. "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (v. 13). My particular point here is not the larger social point that James is making, but rath- er the attitudes that drive it, and what those attitudes look like in the microcosm of the home. In the home, who are the rich and who are the poor? Who is the establishment, and who are the ruled? Who has control of the courts and who does not? And can it be said of parents generally that they love mercy, and that mercy triumphs over judgment?
In the passage from Luke, Jesus warns against stumbling or offending little ones. He at- taches one of the most dire warnings in the Bible to this caution (v. 2). Jesus said a lot of things about children that are routinely ignored today, just as the first disciples tended to ignore them. When we stumble or offend little ones, we are not letting mercy triumph over judgment.
Parents should always desire to be like God in their relationship to their children. But when we think this, we gravitate to what we think or assume God is like instead of gravi- tating to what God reveals Himself to be like. Here is the fundamental attitude. "The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing" (Zep. 3:17). "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13). Parents who are "evil" frequently are better to their kids than parents who think they are being good by imitating a Cosmic Slavedriver. Delight in your children. Be crazy about them. Don't hold back. They are cuter than everybody else's.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE GARDEN:
But you must take care to structure your delight. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden, He gave them, in principle, the run of the world. There was one thing, and one thing only, that was off limits, and that was one tree in the middle of the Garden. What does this tell you about God's sense of proportion? Which way does He lean? You are trying to imitate God, not some federal regulatory agency. Keep life simple. Keep the rules simple and easy to memorize. Don't keep changing them, and don't multiply opportunities for disobedience. God had one rule in the Garden, and ten rules at Sinai. The rest of the Old Testament are commentary on those ten rules, which can actually be reduced to two—love God and love your neighbor. I recall vividly the three rules in my father's house when I was growing up—no disobedience, no lying, and no disrespecting your mother. This is the spirit of Scripture.
Make sure there is always a boundary (delight is not indulgence; delight has a backbone), and carefully police that boundary. But don't multiply boundaries. Don't multiply oppor- tunities for disobedience."Come here. Put on your coat. Put that down. Find your boots. I thought I said to come here!" Reduce the number of commands you issue by about 90%, and then enforce all those commands. Don't exasperate your children (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). Remember their frame. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust" (Ps. 103:13-14).
DISCIPLINE THAT DELIGHTS:
Yeah, but when does the hammer fall? Doesn't there have to be moral order in the home? Don't we have to have the rule of law around here? Depending on what you mean by putting it this way, probably not. A parent who disciplines effectively is refusing to allow his child to make himself unlovely. "I love you too much to let you do that to yourself." Discipline is corrective, and it is applied for the sake of the one receiving it. It is not punitive, and it is not rendered for the sake of the one giving it.
When you are spanking a child, you are either being selfish or you are being selfless— one or the other. You are doing it because you are exasperated, frustrated, beside yourself, and frazzled, or you are doing it as a fragrant offering to the God of your fathers. An un- godly sentiment can be roughly categorized as, "Take that, you little swine," and a godly sentiment as, "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." What does Scripture say? "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). When you are highly motivated to discipline your kids, you are not qualified. When you are qualified, you don't feel like it.
Discipline, rightly understood, is not an exception to the rule of delight mentioned ear- lier, it is a principal expression of it. "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons"(Heb. 12:7-8). Refusal to discipline (with the right attitude) is a form of disowning a child. Refusal to discipline (again, with the right attitude) is a form of hatred. "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Prov. 13:24).
All who love, discipline. But it does not follow from this that all who discipline, love. A child must grow up in, be surrounded by, and be nourished in, the love of God revealed for His people in the Word Incarnate and the Word revealed. This is the context in which godly child-rearing occurs, and, outside of which it cannot occur."
Love The Little Ones II
We have considered the fact that child nurture, if it is to be healthy, has to occur in a particular kind of soil—and that is the soil of grace, mercy, and kindness. This is not indulgence or relativism, but rather is the only real basis for bringing up children who will love and worship God. You want children who love what you love, including your God.
"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).
OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT:
The children of the church at Ephesus have just been reminded of their duty to obey their parents (v. 1), and the reason given is that of the fifth commandment (v. 2)—the first command that God gave that had a promise attached to it (v. 3). Paul takes the promise that had originally applied to Israelite children in the land, and he applies it to Gentile children in the earth. He then turns to the du- ties of the father, and says two things—the first is that fathers need to take care that they don't provoke their children, and they need to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (v. 4). In brief, they are to bring up their children in the Lord. But what does this mean?
YOUR CHILD IN ADAM:
It has been God's good pleasure to renovate the human race in Christ without making us move out. In other words, the fact that we as believers deal daily with the rubble caused by the collapse of the first Adam does not mean that the work of the last Adam is not in progress. Here is some of the rubble that we have to deal with. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Prov. 22:15). Every believer has to deal with remain- ing sin. Because of Christ, inner sin is not reigning sin, but it is remaining. "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). Those who believe in infant baptism, or God's covenant promises for our children, must never allow this to deteriorate into a covenantal presumption. Whenever covenant presumption settles in, one of the first things that happens is a blithe disregard of that rattlesnake Adam called your ego.
The common evangelical paradigm holds that evangelical conversion is chrono- logical only. "In 2005, I used to be that way, and now in 2008 I am this way." This is certainly true of those who were converted from a life of rebellion, but what does this paradigm do for kids who have grown up in the Church? The word conversion means "to turn." For those who actually have lived in rebellion, they must turn from that, obviously.
But this is not the only turning that we are called to do. Every Christian—even Christians who have grown up in the Church, especially Christians who have grown up in the Church—must turn from sin daily, must turn away from that remaining Adamic substratum daily. Jesus said to take up your cross daily (Luke 9:23), and this certainly includes those who have been in covenant with God their entire lives. Those who have been in covenant their whole lives simply have more days in which they are called to do this.
Every disciple needs to mortify his members which are still on the earth (Col. 3:5). Little disciples simply need help with this from their parents, that's all.
YOUR CHILD IN CHRIST:
In our texts, fathers were told to bring their children up in the Lord. They are not told to bring them to the Lord. The child's covenant status with God is simply assumed—but as we just noted, this is not the same thing as assuming covenant faithfulness. Given this, the task of Christian parents is to teach your children faith, not doubts. The question is not whether Christ and sin are inconsistent—of course they are inconsistent. The question rather is which way we reason.
Do we say, "You just sinned. That is inconsistent with life in Christ. I wonder if you are really in Christ." This is to catechize your child in doubts. Or do we say, "Son, you are in Christ, and this sin is inconsistent with that life. That is why your mother and I are going to help you to deal with the sin." This is to catechize your child in faith. If Christ and sin are inconsistent in your children's lives, and they are, then banish the sin instead of banishing Christ. And of course, if you say, "You're baptized. It's all good. Don't worry about it," you are catechizing them in presumption.
COMING TO WORSHIP:
When we come to worship, the entire service is geared to be edifying to the entire congregation. Not one person here gets everything out of the service that they could—not even close. So why would we exclude little ones until they can get as much out of it as we do? This helps to create the temptation of them not wanting to join us at all. We tell children that if they grow up to be big and strong, we will then give them some food. When they keel over and die of starvation, we con- gratulate ourselves on not having wasted any food on them—because they were obviously going to die anyway. This is simply perverse.
No adult at your dinner table turns to a toddler in a high chair and demands to know why he, the toddler, is not eating as much as the adult is. We are nourished according to our capacity. It is the same here. God knows our frame.
When you bring your children before the Lord, you need to settle this in your own mind and heart. You need to carefully teach them that they are welcome to everything here that they can reach. This would include, but not be limited to, the low notes of the psalms, the high notes of the hymns, the central point of the sermon, some incidental point in the sermon, the Apostles' Creed, the corporate amen, the lifting of the hands, and partaking of the bread and wine. Have you noticed that parents who bring their children for baptism promise to treat them, not only as their natural son or daughter, but also as a brother or sister.
Bringing up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord means that you teach them this: "You are in. Let me instruct you further on what it means to be in. Let me model it for you, and teach you how to be faithfully in." But, we worry, suppose a child grows up to reject all this. What do we do then? We do the same thing we would do with an adult who is baptized and who then falls away. Life in Christ and life in sin cannot be harmonized.
Th worship service is the center of our lives, and consequently it ought to be the center of your child's life. And by center, we do not mean the "central arduous duty," but rather the central delight."
Love The Little Ones III
Mankind has had, in various cultures, different metaphors to describe the workings of our internal psychology. For example, we easily speak of the difference between the "head" and the "heart." For us the head represents propositional assent while the heart represents genuine commitment. But the biblical writers had a different set of internal organs to represent (roughly) the same thing¬—the "heart and reins" (e.g. Ps. 7:9), which is to say, the heart and kidneys. All this is to say that in using a particular metaphor to reinforce this message, it is important to note that this is a metaphor, and is not intended as any kind of "scientific" image.
"Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged" (Col. 3:21).
This text is parallel to the text we used for our previous message on this topic, which was Eph. 6:4. Here we are given additional information on the results of parental provocation. In both texts, we see the possibility of childish anger, but here there is the additional result of discouragement. Don't discourage your children, the apostle Paul says. It would be very easy to falsely conclude from this that discipline is what discourages, but this is not the case. Children are provoked, either by the wrong kind of discipline or by no discipline. Godly discipline is never a provocation.
The parental task is to break the child's will without breaking the child's spirit. The metaphor is taken—if you like—from the world of training animals. Now obviously bringing up a child involves far more than training animals, but it is crucial to note that it does not involve less. The thing to avoid is breaking the spirit, and the second thing to avoid is that of failing to break the will. All right, so what does this mean?
Given the constraints of this image, there are four possibilities. The first is that a child's will and spirit could both remain unbroken, in which case you have yourself a wild banshee child—known to all your friends as the Demon Toddler. The second possibility is that a child's will and spirit are both broken, in which case there is no overt disobedience because all the child can contribute is a lethargic and glassy stare. The child is cowed, like a dog that was beat too much. The third possibility is that of breaking the spirit without breaking the will. The result here is that the child is introspective, moody, self-absorbed, and discouraged, but it is entirely impossible to encourage them. They cling to their lousy perception of themselves, as stubborn as the pope's mule. And the last option, the one that all parents should strive for is that of a broken and submissive will and an entirely unbroken spirit.
Unbroken will and unbroken spirit—this is the condition of the rebellious and dis- solute child. An elder with sons like this is disqualified from office (Tit. 1:6). The parents in Deuteronomy with a son like this would no doubt be greatly ashamed (Deut. 21:20; cf. Prov. 23:19-21).
Broken will and broken spirit—this is likely the condition of children in our text. They have been angered, and are discouraged. They are just beat up. When this hap- pens, it is often the case that the father who is doing it has no idea that this is what he has done. He looks at other families, like the one above, and he shakes his head in disbelief. He has eliminated disobedience, he thinks, but there is no constructive obedience.
Unbroken will and broken spirit—when this happens, the children show their uncooperative "rebellion" by passive/aggressive means. In other words, they are not down- town shooting out the streetlights, but they are stubbornly limp and unmotivated.
Broken will and unbroken spirit—the children here are obedient and cheerful. Obedience is a matter of the will, and cheerfulness is cheerfulness of spirit.
It is important to note these four options because if you limit them just to two, you will make false judgments on any number of levels. If your gauge for assessment is simply whether the home is "calm" or "rowdy," for example, you might find yourself misjudging things radically (Is. 5:20).
LOVED AND LOVING IT:
Do your children like the discipline they receive? No, not necessarily in the moment of administration (Heb. 12: 11), but do they experience your discipline as an act of restoration and love? "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Prov. 13:24). The man who lets his kids run wild is hating them. He is disowning them in effect (Heb. 12:8). But a man who is clobbering his kid in the spirit, and leaving bruises there, and is making them say that "this is love" is catechizing them in lies. In other words, not spanking is a rejection. But that doesn't mean that every kind of spanking is automatically love. Obviously not. And the difference between the two is the difference between love and creepiness.
With this as the standard, here are a few observations that will help parents in this important task with their children. And remember the context of all this that we set in the first two messages—love, grace, happiness, contentment, delight, and more grace.
Discipline should be restorative: discipline is corrective, not punitive. You discipline your children for the same reason that you bathe them. You are not meting out justice at the Last Day, you are teaching and training. And you can measure whether this thrust of this message is functioning in your home by whether or not your children want to be restored to fellowship with you.
Discipline should be simple to understand— predictable and consistent: now in ap- plying this, don't underestimate your kids. They understand a lot. But what they don't understand is if spankings for a particular offense are connected to nothing other than the phases of the moon. They understand cause and effect. What they don't (and can't) understand is randomness. We tend to switch this around, thinking that they can follow random flukes, but that predictable causation is beyond them.
Discipline should be for disciples: since everyone in your home is a disciple, this means that everyone is under discipline, and everyone should be visibly under discipline. Put another way, the kids are not the only ones in the home who sin. When sin is regarded as the adversary, this prevents parents and children from developing an adversarial relationship."
Love The Little Ones IV
Thus far, we have considered the context of all child-rearing, the attitude under- neath all child nurture, and some of the mechanics of discipline. We will finish this short series on loving little ones by addressing a miscellaneous collection of some of the remaining issues.
"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them" (Ps. 103:13-18).
The Lord does not look down on us with contempt. Rather, He looks down on us with pity, the same way a human father pities his children (v. 13). He does this knowing our frame; He knows how we are constituted, and knows that we are but dust. He knows our frailty (v. 14). We are here for a brief time; our days are like the grass (v. 15). One brief summer, then we are done with it (v. 16). But in contrast to this feeble existence, the mercy of the Lord is not feeble (v. 17). His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting to those who fear him, and His righteousness is bestowed on grandchildren—to those who keep His covenant, to those who remember His commandments (v. 18). We see here the general outline of this series of messages: the context of all is God's pity and compassion for us, and His realization of our frailty. For precisely this reason, His covenant (which includes means for forgiveness) and His law (which reveals His holy character) are not dispensable.
Think in terms of generations, and try to get your head and heart out of the day you are having, or the week you are having. Look past the dishes, look past the pile of laundry, look past the swats you have to give today for the same offense you gave swats for yesterday. Look past it all because child-rearing is a generational labor. God knows your work; it is not in vain.
There is such a thing as parental failure - we are not offering sentimental comfort here. But failure is not measured by discovering that today is very similar to yesterday. This is also true of all long-term successful enterprises. When you want godly feedback on how you are doing, take care to look in the right place. And if you are looking there - in Scripture - be encouraged.
UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF THE PROCESS:
Your children are being raised up to maturity, and one day they will occupy the same station in life which you currently occupy. This means that you must understand that you are dealing with a very different situation when your child is fifteen years away from leaving your home and two years away from leaving your home. Too many Christian parents get this part exactly backwards.
When children are little and sin is still (comparatively) cute, it is easy to go easy on the discipline. You relax a little bit too much and the roof doesn't fall in completely. All the sins committed are at a toddler level. But when your child is old enough to seriously destroy his or her life, you panic and clamp down. This is backwards. Young children thrive in an environment of strict, loving, predict- able, and enforced discipline. Teenagers thrive when they have been trained to be trustworthy and then are trusted. But if you are still doing "the same thing" fifteen years later, the central thing this should tell you is that the standards have not been internalized. If your sixteen-year-old still has training wheels in his bike, something is messed up. External rules are training wheels, and not a permanent part of the bike.
EDUCATION IS CENTRAL:
In many Christian circles, it is commonplace to speak this way: "We don't want to emphasize academics so much - we want to focus on character issues." The problem with this is that it presents a false dichotomy. Academics is a character issue. It is the work that children have been assigned to do - for good reason - and to set it aside for the sake of "character" is really misguided. Picture a number of men sweating away with pick-axes and shovels, digging a ditch. Off to the side we see one of them leaning on his shovel, and we look long enough to tell that this is not a well-earned break. We might go over and ask him what he is doing, and, if we did, we would probably not expect him to reply that he is "emphasizing character instead." That is precisely the one thing he is not doing.
This said, it is cheerfully acknowledged that getting the academic work done is not the only character issue, but it is an indispensible character issue. "The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason" (Prov. 26:16). This can certainly apply to the parents or teachers as well.
BOYS AND GIRLS:
Remember that we are created in the image of God, and this means we were created male and female. That is how we bear the image of God (Gen. 1:27). But you are not rearing generic human beings until adolescence, at which point differences make their first appearance. When Eve gives birth to Cain, she notices right away. "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD" (Gen. 4:1).
Bring up your children with stereotypes in mind, but carry them and apply them in all wisdom. Generalizations are true, but they are true as generalization. Use them to nurture your girls, for example, not to insult them
FAITH AND WORKS:
God has set a pattern of good works for us; He has established good works for us to walk in. Among these good works, we must certainly include the good works you are doing as parents (Eph. 2:10). But this means that all your parental efforts must be ground themselves in God's grace, appropriated through faith. Your children will not "turn out" by works. Viewed from the side, your parental efforts will look like a lot of work to others. But viewed from within, everything proceeds from grace and to grace. This is why you can extend grace to your children - because you are a non-stop recipient of it (2:8-9)."