As my wife and I went over Matthew 18 yesterday, the topic of discussion focused on the first portion for quite a while. Today, I thought it might be helpful to share some of our parenting perspectives. Our children are still young, so what I will be discussing today is what we have settled in our hearts based on what we read in Scriptures regarding our children. With the summer drawing to a close and the upcoming holiday season, I think this is a good time to discuss these matters in the open. Let us begin by reviewing the first portion from yesterday’s Gospel Wednesday post.
Matthew 18:1-6 (ESV) | Who Is the Greatest?
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
At the risk of giving away a portion of what we will read through next week, let us look at how the subject of children comes up again in chapter 19.
Matthew 19:13-15 (ESV) | Let the Children Come to Me
13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.
Luke also captures this moment with some slightly more specific language:
Luke 18:15-17 (ESV) | Let the Children Come to Me
15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these children… even infants. Possibly one of the worst consequences of the man-made doctrine of an “age of accountability” is that we have in many cases checked-out in our responsibility to train up our children in the things of God until they are old enough to be held accountable for their teaching. My wife and I come from very different church backgrounds… and together we have committed ourselves to training up our children in the things of God from infancy through maturity. We will fail, we will sin, and we will repent and turn to a loving, gracious, and merciful God who is faithful and just and who will complete the good work He started in us and in our children.
We Will Not Teach Our Children to Doubt Our Witness
This rule began before I had asked my wife to marry me. We were on our second date in December of 2007, and the radio must have played something related to Santa, because I very plainly told my date, “I will not lie to my kids… my kids will not put their faith in Santa”. In fairness, my words were probably more rough… no doubt referring to him as an obese demi-god or giant elf in a clown costume who spies on the kids throughout the year… yeah. It wound up being quite the argument… and a major cause for concern for her sister who took offense to my anti-santa stance well into our first year of marriage. Why the anti-santa stance? Initially, I hated the notion that I had been lied to about Santa, and every adult who contributed to the lie knew they were lying when they lied.
But society doesn’t just lie about Santa… it bears false witness to our children. Adults take children to a drunk in a clown suit, have them write letters, claim to deliver them to Santa, and default to Santa as the judge of the worthiness of child’s behavior throughout the year. Adults secretly shop for gifts, hide them, wrap them up, sometimes even signing them in Santa’s name… place them under the tree, eat the cookies they helped their children make for the Santa they know does not exist. Bearing false witness. At some time, the child either catches the adults in their lie or is so crushed in disappointment because of their unanswered prayer to the false god (Santa), that their parents then have to scramble to rebuild their child’s trust in them. At this point, whatever case the parent wants to build for their motive and intention is null and void. You do not have the ability to see or measure the damage you’ve inflicted on your child’s heart, on her trust, even on her faith. Only God can see that, and He is definitely watching. If only Santa were the only problem… some parents also do this with the tooth fairy… and some churches do it with the Easter bunny.
Why do we do it? Honestly, I struggle to find nice words for why we do this to children. The best I can come up with is that we’ve bought into the worldly notion that we can cultivate “belief” in children so that they don’t lose it like we did. We live in a fallen world with Peter Pan dreams of never growing up. Completely unbiblical. Yet, in our hubris, we think we can give our children magic to believe in to somehow enhance their child-like faith. Rubbish. We cause them to sin.
Exodus 20:3 (ESV) You shall have no other gods before me.
Sure, you think you’ve defined with laser-like precision the distinction between the fat elf who brings gifts and the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that what your house truly celebrates during Christmas is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But ask yourself this question honestly… in whom does your little 3yr old place her hope during the Christmas season? What does she most look forward to on Resurrection Sunday, a celebration of our risen Savior or the abominable egg-laying rabbit?
Exodus 20:16 (ESV) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Not every child figures out the lie at the same stage in life. Do we repent of our misleading and false teaching? No. Sadly we often co-opt the child to continue the lie with their friends and siblings. We warn them not to hurt the feelings of their friends, not to “ruin it” for them. We encourage them to bear false witness concerning santa, the bunny, and the fairy. God forgive us.
You what is really destructive in all of this… we give these little ones far more evidence to believe in the false gods than we can hope to give of the One True God. As parents, we’ve been blessed of God who gives us children… and these little ones are in our charge. How dare we play around with their hearts and urge them to believe in what we know to be false, squandering our testimony by giving a false witness in their formative years… and later urge them to believe in the truth of God’s Word? Should we be so surprised when the public school system so easily causes our children to doubt in the Risen Savior? May God forgive us.
We Speak truth, Repentance, Forgiveness, and Truth
It is not easy to speak truth to our children. Our little ones are naturally curious and ask seemingly never-ending chains of questions. My wife and I have committed ourselves to telling the truth. Not always answering fully… there are many times when we simply have to tell them “we’ll discuss it more when you are older”. But we endeavor to make every answer we give to be one that will not later have to be changed or refuted. We are sinful beings… so when we get it wrong, we model repentance and ask forgiveness. It is a humbling experience to kneel in front of my 5 yr old son to confess that I had been mistaken about the time/date of a party and due to my error, he missed a party. I have to apologize, repent, and ask my boy to forgive me through his fat lower lip and tear-filled eyes. I praise God when my little boy forgives me.
Speaking Truth on a regular basis is surprisingly difficult. The Truths of God’s Word seem far tougher than the precious-moment-Jesus that gets heavily marketed to our children in Christian bookstores and Sunday School. It is surprisingly difficult to resist the urge to affirm a child’s desire to take comfort in the notion of a dead pet going to heaven, or to think that a dead loved-one “looking down on them from heaven”. Even the notion of good and evil is skewed in cartoons and kids-shows… the idea that most people are inherently good is shoved in our children’s faces… but the Truth is that we are sinful and unrighteous and condemned in our unbelief. These are tough topics to discuss with adults who are immature in the Faith, much less little children… but it must be done.
Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
As a father of two, I’ve been given a high calling and responsibility from God to serve as the priest of my household. The only way I can do this is to rely fully on God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit to bring the Word to life in the hearts and spirits of my children. I will set the best example I can, but that example must include confession, repentance, and humility… wretch that I am… and I must extend to them the grace, mercy, and compassion I’ve received from my Heavenly Father. I don’t always get feedback or indication of the effectiveness of my teaching efforts… I have to rely on the Holy Spirit to add the increase. I draw great comfort from the Apostle Paul’s writing to Timothy.
2 Timothy 3:10-17 (ESV) | All Scripture Is Breathed Out by God
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
From childhood. I don’t like to dive into the Greek much since I am not a Greek scholar; however, this word used here for childhood covers life from unborn to infant or young child (brephos).
As parents, we take the warning of Matthew 18:6 very seriously. Our children watch kid shows, and play with toys, use their imaginations, and even make up stories for entertainment. They play make-believe with their sitter and with us and we have a blast. However, what we don’t do is encourage them to place trust or faith in anything we know to be false. We take every effort to strip away anything that might cause their little hearts to faint or their faith to be led astray. There isn’t a day that passes by without us confirming what is real and what is not, whether it be a commercial on TV or something they heard one of their friends or cousins say about ghosts, heaven, the Bible, good, evil, or God. As my kids grow and mature, it becomes more and more clear the significance of assessing the household of a man being considered for deacon or elder in the Church. A man who has demonstrated himself faithful to serve as priest of his home is definitely the kind of man you want in leadership of your local church.
This charge to guard the faith of the children isn’t limited to your own children. Jesus wasn’t talking only about the disciple’s children… we have a responsibility to all of God’s children… even infants.
A word of caution: Don’t attempt to co-opt my children in your false witness. My wife and I do our best to encourage our little ones to extend grace to others who enjoy playing the make-believe game of santa, fairies, and the abominable rabbit… but that’s about it. If it happens in front of me, I will instruct my children clearly… as graciously as I can for your sake, but it will be unambiguous and clear… and it will not likely be politically correct.
Jude 24-25 (ESV) | Doxology
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,