By Tom Hamilton
More and more we hear about the modern trend of “home schooling.” By this term one normally refers to the instruction of academic subjects at home, as opposed to a private or public school, but let us consider the term differently. True “home schooling” is as old as the first home and has always been God’s intention for his people in every time period. The home has always been the primary schoolroom of life. It is here that we first learn about a world larger than ourselves, the purpose of that world and our role in it, and all the necessary values for functioning in that world, such as respect for authority, respect for other people, and service. It is in the home that we learn about relationships.
This fundamental place of the home in God’s plan is illustrated by the pivotal fifth commandment to honor your father and your mother (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16). On the one hand, we demonstrate how well we have learned in the home the principle of respect for authority, and we show whether we can transfer that respect to God’s authority in obeying the first four commandments. On the other hand, we demonstrate how well we have learned in the home the principle of respect for other people, and we show whether we can transfer that respect to those beyond our family in obeying the last five commandments.
In order for the family relationship to function healthfully and to serve as our primary schoolroom as God intended, each party to the relation-ship must fulfill his obligations to the other. And just what is it that parents owe their children? Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing other than to teach and train them. On the other hand, what is it that children owe their parents? Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing other than to learn, obey, and respect. If the home is to fundamentally be as God designed it, parents must train the children and children must honor the parents!
If a father trains his child properly, the appropriate response by the child will be one of honor, as Proverbs 22:16 describes this general principle. But in order to evoke this desired response of honor, fathers must apply their best effort in three areas:
1. Action. To successfully be a father, we must actually spend the time necessary to teach and train the child. This on-going work fills every moment of every day, without stopping until the child is grown (Deut. 6:6-9). Because “father” is biblically defined as actually doing this training, our children are fatherless or illegitimate when we do not train them (Heb. 12:7-n). Biological relation is meaningless; spiritual training is crucial.
2. Aptitude. For a father to provide the training his child needs, the father must actually possess the knowledge himself. One cannot teach another that which he himself does not know. And this training is more than academic, physical, or social. While these things are necessary, they are merely part of the greater training in which we must give the child a spiritual training that embraces all that the child must know in order to function in this world as God intends for him. Therefore, fathers must devote themselves to spiritual wisdom and maturity in order to capably pass it on to their children (Deut. 6:1-9). It is such wisdom that compels us to do what is best for our child spiritually, instead of succumbing to the natural desire to let our child have or do anything he wants.
3. Attitude. Genuine parenting is done out of selfless love for the child. But it needs to be a love which is communicated to the child in all that we do, for unexpressed love is meaningless to the one on the receiving end. Even in our disciplining, we must be careful to demonstrate that it is because of our love for the child (Heb. 12:5-11). It is this same loving attitude that prevents the father from driving his children into resentment or destroying their spirit (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). The biblical picture of fatherhood is not that of a brutal, demanding tyrant, but one who exhorts, encourages, and implores (1 Thess. 2:11).
Indeed, worthy of honor is the father who displays spiritual wisdom in his own life, who demonstrates a sacrificial effort to do what is best for his child, and who exhorts and encourages his child in genuine compassion. To the extent that these qualities are obvious to the child, the appropriate response will be honor, which manifests itself in three ways:
1. Obedience. When Paul instructs children to “obey your parents in the Lord,” he cites the fifth commandment as his proof-text (Eph. 6:1-3), equating obedience with honor. Obedience is a fundamental part of both the relationship of the family and the learning experience which
God intends to take place there. Unfortunately, too many parents omit this essential ingredient. They try to be a “friend” with the child which they hope will lead to “cooperation.” But the parent relationship cannot exist without obedience first, and without obedience, the child is incapable of learning about authority or genuine respect for others. This is why the word translated “disobedient to parents” is always found listed among the most abominable and destructive of sins. In Romans 1:28-32, we read that such depravity as disobedience to parents is worthy of death. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul describes those who are disobedient to parents as incapable of loving God or anyone else besides themselves.
We must appreciate that disobedience is a serious problem, not usually because of the act itself, but because of the lack of respect which it indicates and the corrupted condition of the child’s heart which it reflects. If a three year-old sticks his tongue out at his father and yells “No!” to his commands, nobody will die and no property is destroyed. Because of a “no-harm-done” attitude, too many fathers let such episodes pass without requiring obedience and respect. But this superficial perspective fails to appreciate what the father is really teaching the child, what the child is learning as the real rules of life, and what immense harm is taking place in front of the father’s eyes. Indeed, his child is being killed spiritually one act of disrespect at a time, and the father’s most precious possession of a young, innocent soul is being destroyed.
2. Gratitude. As the child matures, so does his honor and the means in which it manifests itself. If the child develops properly, his respect also develops into an understanding and genuine appreciation for what his parents are doing for him. The mindless obedience of childhood is replaced by a more mature and perceptive obedience. Even the negative aspects of training and discipline, which at the moment seem joyless, are upon later reflection viewed in gratitude (Heb. 12:5-11). The most poignant moment of such realization and gratitude probably arrives at the time when our children have their own children. It is both the most likely and the most meaningful moment when your children will rise up and call you “blessed” (Prov. 31:28), whether you are a worthy woman or a worthy father.
3. Selfless Love. Of course, the ultimate goal of the spiritual training of our children is the attainment of a sacrificial, selfless life of service toward God and other people. If the child continues to develop properly, this maturity of genuine selflessness will be attained. The father and the child may then enjoy a complete and mature relationship in which the sheer enjoyment of that relationship is its own reward. As parents, we need no longer concern ourselves with motivating our children to obedience by threats or material rewards the more mature motivation of a de-sire to please the other is what drives our children’s obedience, respect, and honor.
Even after the children have left the home, this respect and honor will remain. In the parents’ old age, this selfless love will manifest itself in caring for one’s aged parents, as Jesus himself applied the fifth commandment to this situation (Mark 7:6-13). It is not that the fifth commandment may be reduced to the simple act of physically caring for one’s parents. Jesus is pointing out that genuine respect and selfless love require this and much more. As one’s parents get older, perhaps reverting back more and more to a childlike state of helplessness, the grown child has an opportunity to demonstrate to his parents how well he learned what they had demonstrated to him.
Indeed, the home is the schoolroom of relationships, and we should ask how well we have learned honor toward our own parents, God, and other people. To what extent have we learned obedience, gratitude, and self-less love?
Guardian of Truth XLI: 12 p. 3-5
June 19, 1997