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Train up a Child in the Way he should Go:

What does the Bible say about Parent-Child Relationships?

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Question #1:  

The bible tells us to honor our parents, but where do we draw the line? Someone said that we are to obey our parents. What if they tell us to steal, lie, etc? And if we're over 18 then we have the option to move out. The bible also says to obey them in all things, so how can we be selective? Does Ephesians 6:1 which commands a child to obey allow a child to disobey without sin any time their parents tell them to do something condemned in the Bible and any time they tell them not to do something commanded in the Bible?

Response #1: 

My judgment would be that the "As long as you are living under my roof, you'll live by my rules!" is the appropriate principle. Scripture doesn't put an age limit on what is a "child", but one important distinction to make here is that at the point of becoming independent at the very least a person is no longer a "child" in scriptural terms. The Bible doesn't say, "Grown-ups, obey your biological parents!", which is how some people misapply this based upon our continuation in English of the quirky use of the word "child" even for adults. Scripture always makes sense too. Clearly, there are always going to be cases where an inflexible application of one rule will seem on first take to bump into an inflexible application of another rule. In practical Christian terms, I don't think there would ever be a primary case of a child having this conflict, even with bad parents, because if a child is where he/she should be spiritually, then the ministry of the Spirit and prayer and what the child has learned about scripture will make the decision very clear in any rare case where disobedience is called for. The extremes are obvious: "Take out the garbage!" can't generally be disobeyed without violating the commandment, whereas "Kill your sister/brother!" is clearly something that any sensible person would disobey (and without sin). The commandment presupposes parents operating within a range of acceptable conduct. They should be given very wide latitude (i.e., in dubious cases where I the child suspect there is a possibility that my parents are in the wrong but am really not sure, they should get the benefit of the doubt), but in cases of commanding criminal activity or clearly sinful behavior parents would be violating their holy charge. God's authority trumps everyone else's authority. We are told to "submit to rulers" (Rom.13:1ff), but Daniel and his friends are memorialized forever in the Word of God for disobeying the king when his commands ran afoul of divine authority. In all such cases of divine will/authority versus temporal authority, Christians should 1) be extremely careful about claiming they have God on their side in resisting such authorities, because after all these have all been appointed by God for our good (Rom.13:2-5); but 2) keep in mind that there are some very rare extreme cases, and certainly will be in the future, where the excuse "I was only following orders!" will not wash with God. The Great Persecution of the Tribulation's second half will be such a time when lack of faith, spiritual cowardice, and failure to obey God will bring down many lukewarm Christians who value their earthly lives more than their eternal ones as they choose to worship antichrist rather than face execution. For those who choose to follow Jesus Christ no matter what during these difficult days ahead, there exists the possibility of being betrayed by one's own flesh and blood:

"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." Matthew 10:21-22 NIV

Looking to our deliverance in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

A few times in Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve, and Noah and his family to "Be fruitful and multiply" I notice that some families today use this verse as meaning that they should have large families. I know that children are a gift of God. But does this verse really apply for us today? I realize in our society that couples will only have one or two children for selfish reasons – "I can only handle two kids!" – or thinking they can't afford more, or just want to have more freedom.

Response #2: 

As I recall, it was Mark Twain who quipped that this particular mandate was "the only one of the Almighty's commandments which the human race has sought to carry out with any particular enthusiasm". It would be good to note first of all that this command was originally given before the fall. Absent Satan's temptation and Eve and Adam's failure which resulted in all of us subsequently being born in sin, there is every reason to suppose that the human race, undefiled by sin, would have happily and rapidly exploded to the point where it equaled the number of the fallen angels, and that would have been that. Of course, this was not to happen.

Scripture definitely describes children as a blessing from God (cf. Ps.127:5). I would hasten to add, however, that this only has a hope of being fully and completely true in the case of those who are believers and who are living their lives in the way that the Lord would have them to do, growing spiritually and helping others to do likewise. The idea that a small family is better is entirely a modern, western notion, and shows just how much materialism and the pressures that our hyper-materialistic society heap upon us have affected the way we live and the way we look at the world. That said, it is also true that as believers in Jesus Christ, our first priority is to please our Lord and Master, and it is beyond question that spouses and children can complicate this objective considerably (cf. 1Cor.7:32-35). The reasons why the vast majority of Christians ought to be married are obvious (1Cor.7:2), and the natural human desire to have children is certainly something that married Christians are not denied – no scripture ever comes close to suggesting that Christians should not have children if married; rather the reverse is true (cf. 1Tim.5:14). Still one has to say that given the nature of life today the chances of a person with 3 children engaging in serious ministry are likely to be greater than those of a person with 13 children, and it would be unrealistic not to take this into account.

As to the "right" number of children, I am very reluctant to give any opinion because I don't feel I have solid scriptural grounds for doing so. As I say, in direct response to the first part of your question, I would be hesitant to use Genesis 1:28 to suggest that maximizing the size of one's family is something believers must do. You are correct that this command is repeated to Noah and his family at Genesis 9:7, but one also has to allow as to how saying to everyone collectively "be fruitful and multiply" is not necessarily the same thing as saying "if any one of you is not as fruitful as absolutely possible you are sinning". And if there is room for individual discretion and personal application here (I firmly believe there is), then that has to be applied privately on the individual level based upon each person's relationship with the Lord and the guidance they receive through the Spirit. For we know that there is room for just such personal discretion at least in some cases, because staying single (and therefore being completely unproductive in this respect) is not a sin (cf. 1Cor.7:1; 7:8).

As you suggest in your e-mail, I would agree absolutely that it often gets down to motivations. If a person's motives for minimizing their family are truly selfish and ungodly, then that is a problem. Of course the same could under certain circumstances be true of the reverse. Ultimately, it always comes down to what is in a person's heart, and of that only the Lord can truly know for sure.

Thanks for your question. Keep on growing in grace through the knowledge of the Word, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

I was wondering if you agreed with this below concerning obedience towards our parents. This is from a Pastor. He wrote:

"I grew up with unsaved parents. Through prayer and communication, my parents never made me do anything that was against Scripture. Remember, some are teaching what is called situation ethics and is unbiblical. Here's a Biblical solution:

Parents: "Child, do something against Scripture"

Child: Goes and prays about it, allows God to work on parents, then goes and asks parents to not require him to do something that goes against Scripture.

The impact of this will be that they will see he is trying to live by the Word of God and will come to know Christ. This is the same manner that a wife is to follow with an unsaved husband.

Let's follow Scripture and not add to it."

Do you agree?

Response #3: 

It seems that this person is responding to a particular argument to which I am not privy (i.e., "don't add to scripture" so as to do something that the person he is replying to is advocating). Therefore I can only make general comments. The fifth commandment is in a category all on its own and stands for our need to obey secular authority generally (see the link: "The Ten Commandments"). So we can apply what we know of God's attitude in respect of obedience to authority generally to this issue in particular. While it is occasionally – very rarely – permissible to disobey secular authority when it directly contradicts a divine commandment, generally speaking this will almost never be the case in practice. Both Peter and Paul are extremely clear in their mandates to obey even unfair authority (Rom.13:1-5; 1Pet.2:13-15), and remember we are talking about the Roman Empire in their day whose attitude toward Christianity was anything but beneficent (see the link: "The distinction between sin and crime"). Cases of disobedience, moreover, almost always require the humble acceptance of the consequences even though they are unfair (Peter and the apostles being flogged for preaching the gospel, Daniel being thrown into the lion's den for praying, Daniel's friends being thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship the king). Look at the example of Jesus. In His youth He lived in complete obedience to His earthly mother and step-father, and if anyone had a claim on "knowing better" and needing to "follow God rather parents" it was certainly our Lord. Nevertheless He remained "in obedience to them" even when they didn't understand why He had remained behind in Jerusalem (Lk.2:51-52). So in my view the course of action recommended here seems reasonable enough in principle – when in any doubt, obey. Unless it is a case of criminal behavior that is at issue, there are very few instances where a child who is still under his/her parents roof should not obey them, not just out of necessity but "for conscience' sake" (Rom.13:5). God has the ability to give us all grace great enough to turn the hearts of any ruler or authority away from forcing us to have to come into conflict with them over issues of conscience. Remember Daniel and his friends when they were first taken to Babylon. They were confronted with just this sort of test, told they would have to eat food that under the Law was wrong to eat. Rather than being overtly rebellious, Daniel humbly presented an alternative, and God not only gave Him and his friends grace in the eyes of their supervisor, but also blessed the alternative plan abundantly, even giving them the wisdom to shine above their peers in every way (1:5-21). We are often tested in this life, and a big part of faith is waiting on the Lord to provide a way through the seemingly impassible sea. His part is to cleave the raging billows asunder; our part is to pray, to wait patiently on His timing, and to move through the gap He provides resolutely, when and how He sees fit to provide it.

In confidence of our deliverance from every tight space in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bob L.

Question #4:

A friend of mine is having trouble with her daughter's salvation. I wanted for you to read what she had wrote:

"My daughter will claim to the death that she's saved. I can't change that, but I have very serious doubts. She cannot see that anything she does is wrong. Yesterday, for example, she was extremely mean to her younger sister all morning, saying things like "I hope she can't come to your birthday tonight." It drove the younger to tears. I talked to her about that later and she doesn't believe it was wrong. She feels it was totally justified. I need God's great wisdom, but if any of you have any ideas or insight, I would sure appreciate it."

She would appreciate any suggestions from a Pastoral or biblical point of view from someone who knows the word like you do. Thanks in advance!

Response #4: 

From the point of view of the scriptures as I see the issue, it is not particularly profitable to worry about whether or not someone is "saved". That is because salvation is not an unalterable state wherein "once saved, always saved"; rather, salvation requires us to maintain our faith in and faithfulness to Jesus Christ in a day by day walk with Him (see the link: "Loss of Salvation" in Peter #21). Therefore all sin, rebellion, bad behavior etc. is a "bad sign" whereas all responsiveness to the Word, the law, authority, is a good sign – but only God knows what is going on in the heart.

Disciplining one's children is certainly not only a biblically authorized thing to do but an essential thing to do if they are going to grow up with a proper respect for authority. How one is to go about that, however, is a question that only the parent(s) can answer, for all parents and all children are different, and times and circumstances are variable as well. It is the parent(s)' responsibility to do the best job they can on this, and the way scripture would seem to me to approach the issue is that proper discipline is to be applied regardless of what the child's spiritual status may be. That is to say, no one can "make" anyone else believe. But a parent does have the authority and the means to compel their children to behave in a decent and orderly way, and to alter their behavior when it transgresses this boundary as they see it. No doubt none of us will be perfect in the way we deal with our children, but we are all responsible to the Lord to lovingly, carefully, prudently, and persistently guide our children into the best paths possible when it comes to behavior. Whether or not they become believers early in life, or later in life, or even at all is something over which we have no real control. We can set the example; we can tell them the truth; we can encourage them; but we cannot alter their free will. Generally speaking, children of truly good and faithful Christian parents eventually turn out the same way – but by all means that does not mean that they won't be rebellious in their adolescent years, for example, and it may take some years thereafter, some serious interaction with "real life" before they begin to straighten out, and even some time after that before they face the reality of God and of salvation in Jesus Christ. Therefore we should never lose hope, and should never let up in praying for them, in setting a good example for them, and also in holding them to acceptable standards while they are living under our roofs.

If we do all this, I am confident that a beneficent, loving, and merciful God will certainly take our prayers to heart for the salvation, production, and respectable behavior of all of our children.

Train a child according to his behavior, then when he is older he will not turn aside from it (i.e., this initiating instruction).
Proverbs 22:6

Please also see the following links:

Christian child rearing

The Early Life of Jesus Christ

In our Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

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