Marriage and the Family - 17 - Parents with Priorities (1)

Chapter 17

Parents with Priorities (1)

The wisdom of God has fortunately not left us with only negative examples to avoid, but has also provided positive models from which to learn.  Parenting has always been an extremely difficult job.  Imagine the grief of the first parents when they became aware that family life could be as deeply tragic as Cain caused it to be.

One of the most distressing aspects of parenting is that most of us receive “on the job” training.  Just when we feel that we have learned invaluable lessons and are equipped for the task, we are no longer needed in that role.  There we are with a storehouse of wisdom which no one else really wants.  Yet this on-the-job training is obviously what the Lord intended.  Raising children was meant to educate us as much as to train them.

Encouragement is provided by noting some of the parents in the Scriptures who left us positive examples to follow.  Although direct instructions for parenting are limited, observation of those who “succeeded” in their roles is abundant.  Consider those who had the priority of –

Living Before Their Children

Someone else has aptly remarked, “Attitudes are caught, not taught.”  Sociologists and psychologists both agree that the most powerful influence in shaping children is the example to which they are exposed.  The mandate for all Christian parents is first of all to live before their families in such a way as to commend the truth of God.  This does not imply perfection.  Like the teacher to whom James refers (James 3:2), in being examples “we offend all.”  Yet, just as the Lord looked at the tenor of a man’s life and not his lapses, so we should seek to live consistently before our families.

Consider the opening of 2 Timothy.  This epistle, which is occupied with the continuity of testimony, begins with a short yet eloquent commentary on Timothy’s home life.  Paul makes reference to Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice.  When Paul alludes to the “unfeigned faith” of Timothy, he is not referring simply to that which linked him to Christ, but to the principle of faith by which he lived.  He then goes back two generations and, embracing both Lois and Eunice, connotes that faith was first of all real; it was genuine.  Timothy had seen it in action in the family.  His family environment had consisted of a saved mother and an unconverted father.  There were doubtless many opportunities for him to witness the reality of his mother’s life of faith.  Faith, we are told, dwelt in them.  It was at home in their hearts.  It was not a Sunday only resident.  It was not like the fire alarm box marked “use only in emergency.”  It was perfectly at home and natural for everything to be consistent with this great principle.  Doubtless, the principle of faith reigned in the household.  Every problem and decision was subjected to this tenet.

Every perplexity was submitted to this maxim.  It is little wonder, then, that their faith was reproduced in Timothy.  It was not that God rewarded their life of faith by saving Timothy.  That is not the point.  Timothy had seen a consistent life lived before him; when converted, this example had a tremendous influence on his way of life.

Early in recorded history, we are introduced to Enoch, of whom it is said that “he walked with God.”  This is no little accomplishment in itself.  Yet the Spirit of God obviously desires to convey something more for He tells us that he walked with God and begat sons and daughters; then the Spirit adds again, “And Enoch walked with God.”  Family life did not hinder Enoch’s walk.  He not only walked with God, but also walked before his family.  This habit of living before God can be traced down to his great grandson, Noah.

Living before our children is vital.  Failure to do so on a consistent basis will undermine all the other principles which follow. It must again be emphasized that no suggestion of expertise or faultlessness is being suggested; it is the tenor of one’s life that is important.

Another priority with Biblical parents was –

Leading Them

The divine visitor to the pilgrim tent in the plains of Mamre commended Abraham when He said, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him” (Genesis 18:19).  The Deuteronomic repetition of the law is punctuated by a divine injunction that parents were to keep these truths before the family.  This involved teaching by repetition (Deuteronomy 6:7), as well as making the Word of God an integral part of daily life.  It was not a case of piously quoting verses at various times, but of weaving the principles and truths of Scripture into everyday life.  The most common of activities would afford opportunity for the Scriptures to be learned and applied.  The application of the Scriptures to everyday problems, the balancing of current opinions by divine values, the comparison of behavior of others against scriptural standards, all “teach” the Scriptures and develop a value standard for our children.

Seasons were set aside when generations yet to come would ask the father of the home concerning the spiritual history of the nation.  Instruction in divine truth and ways was to be part of family life.

It is the responsibility of parents to imbue their children with a value system and to teach them not just what to think, but how to think.  All who have raised their families will readily testify to how rapidly the years seem to pass.  All too soon that fragile infant is ready to step out into a cynical world.  Have we prepared them for the attack upon their character and integrity, as well as we have prepared them for the attack upon their faith?  Only by patient application of the Scriptures through all the circumstances of life, the spending of time with our children, the winning of their confidence, can we hope to so prepare them.  It is far more important to provide them with the key into your life than with the keys to the car.

God does not hold us responsible for what our children do, but for what we have taught them.  The obligation of leadership is awesome.  Though we have stressed the spiritual aspect of life, it justly involves every aspect of life for which you are preparing your child: social, intellectual, employment, financial, as well as spiritual.  This preparation is a full-time task involving both parents, for each have unique and invaluable contributions to make to children.  It should not be left to chance or even to others.  We have the privilege as well as the obligation to lead our children into increasing spheres of responsibility and preparedness.

Leaving a Legacy

The result of living before our children and leading them as parents will be a rich legacy upon which they can build.  No, this is not the legacy that comes from an attorney’s office when the will is read.  Hopefully, each of us will have the joy of actually seeing this legacy used before our eyes, in our lifetime, if the Lord be not come.  This is an intangible legacy, immaterial, yet vastly more valuable than any estate ever bequeathed.

When David stared death in the face and saw a young and tender Solomon about to ascend the throne, he purposed to prepare with all his might for his son (1 Chronicles 22:5).  In this chapter, David prepared Solomon as well as the materials with which Solomon was to build the temple.  Foresight and forethought enabled David to prepare for this.  Although David’s legacy was material, it was not for Solomon’s wealth, but for God’s glory.  He left his son a legacy with which to honor God.

Moses’ parents left him a legacy of faith.  In Hebrews 11, the faith life of Moses is introduced with a reminder that Amram and Jochebed, moved by faith, hid Moses for three months.  One can only imagine with what fear they committed their small infant to the care of God as they placed him in the ark and set it by the water’s edge.  Little wonder that the Spirit of God can follow their encore with the recital of “by faith Moses” four times.

How often would Moses have been told by his mother of those early months and of the faithfulness of God?  It is impossible to calculate the immense impact that it must have had, shaping convictions and inspiring confidence in God.

The history of Onesiphorus could be recorded and condensed into two sentences.  Yet he has earned for himself a place of eternal honor, and he earned for his family a rich blessing.

Consider the legacy this man left by his conduct.  Paul is a prisoner in Rome.  It is not a comfortable hired house now, but perhaps a damp, dark hole in the ground into which he has been placed.  No special nameplate was above his “cell,” but thrown in amongst the other criminals of the day, he was lost in that vast prison system of Rome.  Friends, who once stood with Paul, now shun him.  The danger and cost are too great.  These fair-weather friends were not apostates.  Most were probably true believers who failed to come forward to associate themselves with Paul.  The “day” shall declare their motives.  Paul prayed that it “might not be laid to their charge” (2 Timothy 4:16).

Yet amidst this dark scene, Onesiphorus shines for God.  The desertion of others only highlights the devotion of Onesiphorus.  Undeterred by the opinion of others, the obstacles before him or his own business obligations in Rome, we read that he sought out, found and refreshed Paul.  We see his courage in not being ashamed of Paul; his compassion and care in that he oft refreshed him; his conscientious concern was appreciated by Paul, for he remarks that he sought him out very diligently.  Paul adds to this terse yet eloquent portrait that Onesiphorus was not simply seeking a place in history by ministering to Paul in distress.  This had been his consistent habit even at Ephesus.

Little wonder then that Paul can say, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus.”  Whether this hero of the faith was alive or with his Lord is not that critical.  What must be appreciated is that as a result of his life, blessing was to fall upon his family.  We should all covet, David-like, the ability to bless our families (2 Samuel 6:20).

Many of us have the privilege of looking back at parents who left us legacies that are invaluable.  By contrast, many a family has risen up in fellowship with the brother of Luke 12:13 and demanded more of a material inheritance.  Bitter words and irreconcilable feelings have issued from such bequests.  Tragic ends and wasted fortunes have not been infrequent.  Yet here is a legacy which, like the blessing of the Lord, makes rich and carries no sorrow in its wake.  The godly example of a consistent life, the display of character and consistency amidst trial, the adherence to principles even at personals loss, a life lived for God and with God, all produce an estate that cannot be evaluated by earthly standards.

Is leaving such a legacy a priority with us?  Do we, as fathers, feel that as long as we have provided the material needs for our families that we have met all our responsibilities?  Priorities involve day-to-day living, not just the major crises of our lives.

There are those who have sacrificed promotion and transfer simply because there was no assembly in the city to which they would have to move.  Others have turned down careers in the world to be able to be at home with children and raise them for the Lord.  Rare is the person who has ever looked back upon such a legacy with a desire to exchange it for a material one.

In developing a sense of family and closeness, the value of traditions cannot be overemphasized. Our society has sadly linked this concept with materialism in one form or another.  It is not, however, how much money is spent, but how much time is given, that is important.  We must learn to share more than our genetic pool with our children, and to develop more than our physical similarities.

Traditions, be they holidays, birthdays, or special days, make children feel special and significant in their parent’s eyes.  It brings security, predictability, and structure to a child’s life.  It creates bonds that cannot be severed.  When the bonds of control are loosed at maturity, these are the links which hold families together in a meaningful way.  Each family can develop their own traditions and special days.  It may be a favorite place to visit, or special holiday or birthdays.  What is important is the time spent together and the predictability of the event.

As we live before our children, lead them into spheres of responsibility and moral and spiritual development, we shall be enabled to leave them a rich legacy upon which to build for the future.  This is both our privilege and our responsibility as parents before the Lord.  Yet the ultimate test is our success in letting go.