Responsibility of Child-Rearing
I thought it might be beneficial to speak about the great influence and responsibility that rests on parents in the raising of their children. It is in the family that the foundation is laid for school, church and society. The family is the root from which grows the entire society. In the family, the fathers and mothers of the future are raised. The child's life and character is shaped within the bond of the family. The family is the place where young recruits are trained for the warfare of life.
We live in a broken, sinful and hostile world. Should we then send our children into such a world untrained and without weapons? In the protected environment of the home our children must be given weapons with which to fight. And they also must be taught how to use them. The time will soon arrive when they must fend for themselves. If they are then without weapons or are unable to use them, how can they survive the enemy's attacks? Experience confirms that they will surely be defeated.
Many young people stand in the midst of the world without usable weapons. They do not know how to defend themselves against the power of the world, and consequently the world over-powers them. They live as the world, and … they perish with the world. There are others who do have weapons, but they are not taught how to use them, so they are used in the wrong way. They too will lose the battle, sooner or later.
In our days there is much talk of disarmament. If that should happen the results can be disastrous.
Should we arm our children? If so, in what manner? With what are we to arm them? It is not for us to answer these questions. It is essential that we ask for, and obey the word of God. We have wandered away from the way of God's commandments much too far. It is time that we return. We have exchanged God's Word for our own personal pleasure, ease and opinion.
The modern way of raising children is to let them choose for themselves. It is up to them which way they want to go. But God's Word does not teach such freedom. The children of Israel were not allowed to determine the way wherein they were to go. The Lord Himself showed them the way and commanded them to walk therein.
We read in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.''
With these words all our questions are answered.
Must we arm our children? Yes we must; God commands it.
With what are we to arm them? With the words that God commands.
In what manner are we to teach our children the use of their weapons? "Thou shalt teach them diligently."
How did the Israelites bring up their children? During the child's first years, the mother was entrusted with care. The mother was the child's primary teacher; she especially taught them the rules of conduct.
From the very beginning, a child must learn how he is to behave himself. This was for the Israelites and also for us, an eternal testimony, that is to say, they were not to turn away from it.
Children must learn at home how to carry themselves toward their parents and siblings, toward the church, their office-bearers and teachers, as well as their playmates and friends.
It is appalling to hear how some children speak about their parents, office-bearers and teachers. Also, it is an astonishing fact that young adolescents often freely talk about sex and related subjects. I have heard complaints about the language that is used by students while riding the school bus. Just recently, while driving behind a school bus, I noticed a few girls in their early teens in the back seat of the bus. It was quite obvious that they were having fun. One of them held up a sign for me to read. On it was written in bold letters: I love you! They also had other signs with slogans which I would not dare or care to repeat.
Yes, rules of conduct must be taught at home. We read in Deuteronomy 6, "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children." In the Dutch translation this is expressed even stronger. The word engrave is used. We must engrave it into our children's hearts, so that it can never be erased or forgotten.
In verse 7 it is further explained how these rules are to be applied: "When thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up.'' The Word of God must be taught and practiced at all times and everywhere.
Parents, we should know where our children are at, what they are doing and what they are talking about. What was the main reason why the sons of Eli made light of the ordinances of the Lord and practiced prostitution? The principle cause was that Eli did not discipline them with a firm hand. His permissive behavior resulted in the destruction of many young lives.
The rules of conduct must be taught our children in such a manner that they will remember them for life, and also practice them. Solomon says in Proverbs: "My son, hear the instruction of thy father and forsake not the law of thy mother." Let each one of us ask ourselves to what extent we know and practice our responsibility.
We hear many complaints how unmanageable today's young people are. It is often difficult to keep order in school, catechism class and at home. My friends, have we forgotten that they are our children or do we imagine that our children are better? Does the fault lie with the children, or with the parents?
I believe that the Bible is still discussed at home. But do we verify our beliefs with our walk? What is our attitude when in the family circle we speak of the service of the Lord, the church, the office-bearers, the sermon, school and teachers? Is our life in keeping with our confession?
The lsraelitish children were instructed orally. The parents related historic events to their children, explained them, questioned the children, and then it was their turn to repeat the lessons they had learned.
I will briefly say a few words about each of these methods of instruction.
To relate, is to speak on any given subject in a pleasant, understandable way. When we relate something to our children, it creates a feeling of warmth and trust. It reinforces the bond between parent and child. Do we still take time to do this, parents?
To explain, is to make plain why a certain thing was said or done, or why we refrain from doing something. Our children are entitled to an explanation. We must not only give them weapons, we must teach them how to use them. It is not enough to give them a list of do's and don'ts without an explanation.
To question could also be called "investigation." We must inquire whether that which was related to them has been understood. Also, we must constantly see that it is brought into practice. Our children need to be ruled with a firm hand.
The instruction of the Israelites to their children was many-sided. Its principal subject was the way of the will and the Word of God. The national tradition was handed down from generation to generation. The children were taught that which the fathers had heard from their fathers. Read the first part of Psalm 78. In verse 4 we read: "We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.''
We must make mention of the wonderful ways of the Lord. The children must know whom the Lord is willing to be for His people. They must hear of His goodness and grace, His righteousness and holiness.
David says: "Come, ye children, hearken unto Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord." I fear that there are a great many children who never hear anything but what man is. I agree that they need to know this, but if this is all they hear, our children will soon stand in the heat of the battle without the proper weapons. They do not pray because they have been taught that they cannot pray. They do not read God's Word because they have been taught that they cannot understand it. The service of the Lord is a hard service for them because they have never heard of the praises of the Lord and His wonderful works. They attend church and Christian school because they must, but meanwhile they secretly await the opportunity to go their own way. Many have already found such an opportunity and made use of it.
Parents, do we still believe that there is reason to complain about the youth? Should they be ashamed of themselves or should we as parents be ashamed?
I once read this saying of an old Rabbi: "He who does not instruct his child in the praises of the Lord is raising a criminal.''
With respect to these things we live in dark and troubled times. Many of us anxiously wonder what our children will yet have to experience. What shall become of them?
Dear friends, in the first place it is most essential that we once again understand our calling and responsibility rightly. I fear that we have become as the children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, they turned back in the day of the battle. They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He showed them. Parents, in your family lie the roots of the future church and society! May the Lord grant us the light of His Spirit so that we may understand our calling.
The young Israelite had ample opportunity to become instructed outside of the family circle. The children could easily go out and see how the grownups spoke and lived. At the water-wells and caravans they heard the people sing and discuss the mighty deeds of the Lord. Think of the water-well where Eliezer met Rebecca, and also of Jesus' talk with the Samaritan woman. Think of the traveling psalms: Psalms 118-130, the songs of degrees. Also in the gates of the cities, the young people could hear the older ones speak. There they heard them close business transactions and settle quarrels. Thus they saw and heard how the grown-ups lived.
Parents, always remember that your children have their ears and eyes wide open. They have a keen sense of discernment, and they notice whether their parents' walk is in keeping with their confession. It is not uncommon that at home nothing is allowed, and elsewhere everything is permissible. Many conduct themselves differently in public places than they do at home. For instance: at home we always pray and give thanks before and after the meal. Do we do the same in a restaurant? Let us keep in mind that there are young people everywhere, who watch the behavior of older ones. I fear that much of the instruction our youngsters receive at home misses its purpose and is made useless because our walk belies our beliefs. Our children can tell the difference! The family is the first place where the children's character is built. It is the primary place where they are armed, but not the only place.
The Israelitish children accompanied their parents to the holy places. Think of Samuel, and Jesus, who was in the temple at the age of twelve. We read in 1 Samuel 1:24, "And they brought Samuel unto the house of the Lord and the child was young, and the child Samuel grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord and also with men." It was the task of the priests to instruct the people and to execute their office in the service of the Lord. The people and their children were commanded to come and observe the service of the Lord.
It is also the church's task to instruct the youth. The prophetical office in the church serves to explain the Scriptures. I think of catechism classes and preaching. Catechetical instruction must be adapted to the child's level. It may not be interrupted until the student makes confession of faith. Many young people stop attending catechism class as soon as they have graduated from high school, and then proceed to make confession of faith a few years later. This is a wrong habit.
The instruction given by the church is not meant as a substitute for home instruction, but is an extension. Parents are to show interest in what their child is learning. They must do what they can to further it. You must know what your children are learning and how they behave themselves. You must also pray for the Lord's blessing upon that work. You are to discuss it at home. This is also true for preaching. You are to engrave it upon your children's hearts. All too often we are so concerned, particularly on Sundays about the things that we should not do, that we forget about that which we should do.
The church must arm the youth with the sword of God's Word. It is a mighty weapon, if it is used! Joseph used it when he was tempted to sin. He said: "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"
Our children are instructed also in school. It is there that they are prepared to find themselves a place in society. Through the goodness of the Lord we may have a school of our own. Let us be thankful for this blessing and beg the Lord that it may be kept and continued.
How is family life related to school life? Or is it better to leave it all up to the teachers? Are we responsible only to see that our children are well-dressed and well-fed and that they arrive at the bus stop in time?
Parents, never forget that they remain your children, whether they are on the way to school, at school, or on their way home. Whether or not your child has received weapons, and is able to use them, is already evident when he rides on the school bus.
Or to say it even plainer: In the bus and at school it can be seen from what kind of family the student comes. How do our boys and girls interact when they have reached adolescence? Do we know what they are doing together, or what they talk about? Are we certain that our child is not involved in indecent behavior? Or do we proudly assume that they are good children? Have we armed our children against the sexual indulgence that is so common in many schools? How do we speak of the school and the teachers at home? Also, do they have a place in our daily prayers?
Dear friends, your child's character is molded through the combined efforts of family, church and school. So it is commanded us by God.
I will say it again: The family is and remains par excellence the institution of rearing the young. It is a gift and a commission of God. It cannot be substituted or imitated. Family life bears a special character. In it, children are produced and raised, and in due time they pass on to the greater circle of church, school and society.
Many things that take place in family life contribute to a child's upbringing:
Father, mother, siblings, prosperity, adversity, mourning, joy, labor, rest, weekdays, Sunday, prayer at the table, and morning and evening prayers. A thousand smaller and greater things are influential in family life. Yes, in the family, church and school, the shaping of our children's character takes place. Do we realize it?
We point no accusing finger at anyone tonight. We place our hand in our own bosom, as father or mother, as office-bearer or teacher.
We think of the children who have yielded to the world. Alas, they were unarmed! Then the sins of our children become our sins. Then we cannot place the blame on church or school, but we confess our sins and shortcomings before the Lord, saying: "O God, we have conceived and brought forth these children in sin."
They bear our likeness.
Lord, Thou art just if Thou shouldst visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. We have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge.
Then we confess our shortcomings also to our children and together we bow our knees, begging the Lord for the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, that He may cause us henceforth to walk in His ways.
Come and let us return unto the Lord, for He has torn, and He will heal us. He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be our strength.
Then even upon the ruins of our lives, there is yet expectation. When we walk in God's ways we may look for His blessing.
Nehemiah began to clear away the ruins of the broken wall. But he did not do this in his own strength. He saw two things: the broken wall … and the faithfulness of God. We see the same, and we repeat after Nehemiah: "We will rise up and build. And the God of heaven, He will prosper us."
And we pray: "Lord, teach us to do Thy will."