Dear Christ Church,
This past Sunday we saw again how God wants to get involved in the gritty details of our lives. God doesn’t want us just to have information. He is looking to give us continual transformation. This transformation takes place on every level of our lives, including that of family. Coming out of the sermon, I received this question.
Question #1 What does it look like to obey the command to honor your parents if you can't trust your parents and they do not give godly advice?
I was hoping this would come up as this is, sadly, all too common in our fallen world. I think there is a general principle that needs to be kept in mind and then some specifics depending on the particular situation.
General principle: Children should relate to ungodly parents the same way that Christians are told to relate to ungodly authorities.
The question of what to do with ungodly authorities was a hot button issue for the early church. We have to keep in mind that the first Christians were Jews living under a state of conquest and oppression by the Romans. As we read the gospel we see again and again that the Jews expected Jesus to come and lead a fight of rebellion against the Romans to reestablish Israel as a sovereign nation. Yet, Jesus made it clear again and again that this was not his purpose. His kingdom was not of this world. So when He left, his followers had to find out how to live this life of “being in the world, but not of it.” How do you apply the fact that Christians are to see life as but a passing moment?
What the NT apostolic authors make clear is that while Christians go through this earthly voyage, they are to be obedient to the authorities that God has allowed to be in place.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, (Tit 3:1 ESV)
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, (1Pe 2:13 ESV)
It is important to keep in mind these writers are encouraging obedience to tyrants who routinely persecuted them for their faith. This is not light hearted advice. Following this way of life could lead to the end of your life. These are heavy words that we need to weigh carefully.
Obedience is ultimately about trusting God, not trusting the authority figure. Authorities are not to abuse their authority (which was the whole second point of the sermon). However, as we see again and again in scripture, God is meant to be our reference point. What we do, we do because of who he is and who we are before Him. So children with ungodly parents should still seek to obey and honor them as unto the Lord.
Now, if the parent is leading the child into sin, the child does not need to be obedient to them, because God is the one whom the child is ultimately to obey. While this is this a strong command in scripture to be obedient to authority, there are also many examples of God commending those who are not obedient to authorities when those authorities command sin. (E.g. The Egyptian midwives who refused to obey Pharaoh and kill the Israelite males.) So a child’s obedience to their parents is not absolute and there might be occasions to not obey one’s parents. Also, if a child is being abused they must not feel that they need to continue to suffer that abuse. They should get help and get help quickly. The Christian community should be on the lookout for child abuse as God has called us to be people of justice in the world (Micah 6:8).
However, as a general principle, a child’s heart should be obedient to their parents, even if their parents are not worth their trust or respect.
Now this is a general principle. However, for those children who are part of a local church, I would want them to know this: part of the benefit of being in the church community is that the child should be able to get help from the church community.
It is the primary responsibility of parents to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. However, as a church community, we have a responsibility towards the child as well. This is why, at Christ Church, when parents dedicate their children to the Lord church members stand and make public commitments to that child. This means that two things should be taking place. One, every adult in the church should be seeking to serve the parents of the church in their task of raising their children. Therefore, as a community we have a responsibility to address our brothers and sisters if we see any ungodly practices or advice being given by them to their children. Two, children should feel that they have recourse to appeal to the community if they think that their parents are being ungodly. My parents regularly practiced this with me and my siblings. If we accused them of being ungodly, they would take that seriously and tell us that we can go talk to the pastors about our thoughts. Now my parents are very kind hearted, wise and fair people, so generally when I went and talked to the pastors, what became clear was that I was being an idiot. However, I really appreciated having that recourse and I do remember situations where my parents did back off of a certain punishment, because after conversation with a pastor, they became convinced that it was too harsh. It is a scary thing to feel trapped and we do not build trust with our kids when we let them feel this way. So while a child’s heart should be postured towards obedience to their parents, I think a crucial part that the church community can play is to make sure that the parents are not abusing that position of authority. Or neglecting it. No child is going to ask for help if their parents are letting them run all over them and do whatever they want. However, as adults who have committed to that child’s spiritual well being, we should not want to see that happen, but should seek to help the parents grow in being the godly authority figures that God has called them to be.
Question #2 I’ve blown it. Now what?
This wasn’t actually a question. I planned on closing my sermon with this, but couldn’t because I was already running long. However, I think any parent who has an ounce of self awareness realizes that there are ways that we blow it as parents. Here is what we have to do about that.
We need to believe that God is greater than our failures. We need to believe that He can work in spite of our failures and that through Christ He forgives us for our failures.
When we fail to believe these things we paralyze ourselves and can’t grow. Living in failure is doubting God, who he is and what he can do. It is making God smaller than ourselves.
We need to believe that God is bigger than us and that there is nothing that his love can’t forgive and no failure in ourselves that he can’t overcome.
One of the most powerful ways to communicate the gospel is through sincere confession of sin. If you have sinned against your kids, either by what you have done or haven’t done, confess that to them. Our confession of our sin doesn’t excuse their sin, but what a great opportunity to model what it looks like to feel remorse for sin. I know parents who have gone back to their adult children and done this and it has been an incredibly healing time.
It is never too late to start doing what God wants. Do not let past failures keep you from experiencing God’s present grace for new transformation. 1 Cor 7 shows us that the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow is that worldly sorrow just leads to wallowing, but godly sorrow produces action. After you believe who God is and confess how you fail, don’t just stay there. Get up and get going. How can you grow? What does being different look like? For married couples, how can you be better supports to one another in parenting?
Parenting is long, slow and time consuming work. If we are going to be sustained in being faithful parents than we need to continue to place our hope in God. We can have hope for our kids, because we are God’s kids. We aren’t the perfect parents. But we have a perfect heavenly Father. So we need keep looking to our heavenly Father and continue to hope in what He can do as we toil day after day in the grind of parenting. God is faithful. Hope in Him!
Grateful for you church family!
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