children, parenthood

There’s One New Testament Command to Parents: Are You Obeying it?

Did you know that the only command to Christian parents in the New Testament is that we ought to not embitter our children?

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Colossians 3:21

That’s it.

Another verse repeats similar information and tells the parent to raise the child to know Jesus.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger,

but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4

Examples are given comparing a God to a good father. From these examples we can infer what a good parent looks like.

But those examples aren’t commands.

The Story of the Prodigal Son shows us what a good parent looks like, but that passage is not a command either.

I did find a command for older women to teach younger women to love their children, but I didn’t include that because it is only a roundabout command to parents.  

(I am not even mentioning verses in the Mosaic Law, because we are not under the law anymore.)

When I had my oldest, I was told that the Bible commanded that I spank my children. I was quoted verses in Proverbs as commands.

Now, I’m not against spanking; I’m against misuse of scripture.

When I Googled “Bible commands to parents,” this is what I found:

I strongly disagree with that webpage.

Proverbs are not commands.

They are statements that are generally held to be true.

The difference between proverbs, commands, and promises is vastly confused. So let’s use the dictionary to clarify the confusion.

In case someone argues that this is not the biblical definition of a proverb, I also checked the Webster’s 1829 Dictionary which has long been considered an accurate dictionary for bible study.

The book of Proverbs is filled with principles for making godly decisions and leading a godly life. However, it’s not a book of absolute promises. The Proverbs are general statements about how life works, and the Bible itself shows us a lot of exceptions that prove the rules.” (from here.)

Understanding that proverbs are not commands or promises saves a lot of heartache caused by misinterpreting bible verses.

I talked more about this here where I described a family I knew who abandoned their faith because they believed God had not kept His promise.

The problem?

They were claiming verses as promises that were not actually promises.

God was not unfaithful: they were misinterpreting scripture.

This matters because I was told that I had to spank my children. I didn’t have a choice, because it was commanded.

Now proverbs are wise sayings. I do believe that it is wise in some situations to spank our children.

Especially in cases of defiance.

But it is not required in every situation as I was told.

When my second child was born, I was given a book on training a child by a very popular –and controversial– author.

I read through it amazed at the stories they told about obedience that resulted from their child rearing methods.

I began to implement this take-no-prisoners, no-second-chances, I-am-the-parent-you-will-obey-me approach to training my oldest.

The problem I noticed right away was that the approach lacked grace.

My son was only 2 years old and not always able to do exactly what I wanted when I wanted.

If I followed the advice in the book to a T, I was disciplining far more than I was comfortable with.

And the method was upsetting my son, who –although he could be stubborn– wanted to obey most of the time.

My friends who endorsed this method of child rearing, told me I was just too soft and didn’t know what was best for my child.

I just needed to obey the Bible and be firmer with him.

Now, I’m not discounting spanking or child training. They are important tools, but a different friend helped me understand that they were not my only tools.

My other friend had also been handed a set of said books and read them. Then she read a book called Shepharding a Child’s Heart. She encouraged me to read it as well and allow it to temper the harsher treatment endorsed in the original book set.

I read Shepherding a Child’s Heart over a decade ago, but certain parts of it still stick with me –like the concept of maintaining fellowship with the child.

Fellowship was not even addressed in the first book set. The authoritative approach did not take into consideration how the parent’s actions affected the child. Only if the child was obeying fast enough.

Remember the one, single, solitary command in scripture given to parents regarding their children?

Don’t embitter them.

If we are treating our children with grace and kindness —like we’re supposed to treat all people regardless of age or relation— then they shouldn’t become bitter toward us.

We should have a fairly peaceful relationship.

If we do not, then we need to consider if we have done something to cause bitterness or resentment in the hearts of our children.

It must have been important for the Lord to include it as basically the only New Testament instruction to parents and to repeat it in two different books.

If we have cause bitterness, we must apologize for wronging them.

(God could also be using this as a trial. See more about that here.)

This is the exact opposite way that the book series I was given handled authority. The parent was the little god, God’s instrument of wrath on a disobedient child according to its author.

But that’s not true.

I’m not superior to my child in any way except for the incredible responsibility I’ve been given to care for him.

I’m not better than he is.

He deserves my respectful treatment just as much as any other person that God created.

If I treat myself as God’s chosen person with a hard hand, lording my authority over my child, guess what happens?

My child becomes bitter toward me.

Recently I had a mom ask me why her teen was rebelling against her.

She had raised him “according to the commands in Proverbs” and scoffed at the idea that she could have cause him to be bitter.

She was the parent, she said , and if he didn’t like what she did he just needed to deal with it.

Now, I agree with her to a point. She does have the right to make choices and her teen has no authority to overrule her.

My problem was her arrogant and condescending manner.

My problem was her lack of grace.

My problem was that she was so busy defending her right to do it her way that she forgot to treat him according to scripture: with kindness, understanding, and grace.

If I was her child, I most certainly would have been bitter, too.

I do not believe we honor our children by lording our authority over them and acting like household dictators.

If we do this, we need to look at our own motivation.

Most often our motivation is pride.

As my second child got older, I noticed that he didn’t need disciplined as much or in the same manner that the older child did. All I had to do is look at the younger one and he burst into tears.

I’m glad I learned to soften the harshness that was encouraged by the first book.

As my boys get older, we’re seeing them grow into responsible, God-loving young men.

I have a relationship with them that isn’t antagonistic, but I have to work to maintain it.

When I see my son starting to have attitude and act resentful, I’ll go to him and ask him what’s wrong.

I’m not above apologizing.

Sometimes I do it daily.

They know I’m not perfect, but I’m doing my best to follow God with my whole heart. They see the imperfection in me more than probably anyone other than my husband.

If I pretended that I had all the answers and had it all together, they’d see right through me and I’d lose all credibility. Children can spot a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy and double standards will cause bitterness as fast as anything else.

My children know that God placed parents over children, but that we are all under God’s authority. I must submit to the authority over me just as they must.

There’s no pretense.

Just me being honest with them, living my life of faith before them daily, loving them unconditionally, and trying to be Jesus to them.

Grace and unconditional love are the only things I’ve found that adequately combat bitterness.

It’s made a huge difference in all my relationships.

I wish I had learned earlier to love unconditionally. (I wrote more about unconditional love here.)

It would have saved us all a lot of heartache along the way.

But mostly, it is the right thing to do.


Sarah Forbes

PS For information on how I believe we should treat our children, see this and this.


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