Parenting can be rough. Every parent feels like there are right ways and wrong ways to do just about everything. And if you ask them, most parents will tell you they’re doing the best they can, but they’re still afraid they’re getting it wrong.
It makes perfect sense that people would come to the Bible for instructions about parenting. Not only does God’s Word offer sound advice for raising and leading children, but it offers wisdom and encouragement for parents who are at the end of their rope.
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If you opened up a Bible to the table of contents and looked for the word “parenting,” you’d probably be disappointed. The Bible doesn’t have a section focused on instructions for raising kids. While there are some critical passages for parents, they are not laid out like a blog post. You’re not going to find “Five Steps for Trouble-Free Potty Training” or “Tips for Getting Your Teen to Obey the First Time.”
You can find thoughtful encouragement in biblical narratives with good and bad examples of parenting. For example, you can read the story of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24–27) and discover insights based on their parenting decisions. But these narratives need to be interpreted before you can understand what they have to say about parenting.
There are also many clear instructions in the Bible that apply directly to parenting your kids. It’s essential to recognize that the things that Jesus asks His followers to do are the same principles that make you a good parent. Some of the best pieces of parenting advice you’ll find in the Bible are the calls to make Jesus the Lord of your life — that is, to put him in charge of your life — and listen to His commands to lead by serving, to love others as you love yourself and to live in a way that displays the fruit of the Spirit, which is the changes that result in your life from following God and walking in His Spirit (Galatians 5:22–26).
As you are spiritually transformed, everyone in your life benefits, including your children. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul — a follower of Christ who wrote many of the books in the Bible — gives some of the best parenting advice you’ll ever find: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1–2, New International Version).
While it’s critical to think about parenthood as a role that’s best fulfilled by submitting to Jesus, the Bible does have specific things to say about how to raise children. Here are some passages that speak to parenting.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
God was explicit in telling the Israelites to pass His law on to their children. The Israelites were to be a people whose lives centered around what they received from the Lord. The message here is that children absorb what they see, so it’s imperative that they’re raised in an environment where God’s Word is valued and shared. That is what is meant by “impressing these things on your children.”
This is about more than reading the Bible with your children. This is about having a faith that is so central to everyday life that it comes up naturally all the time. It’s a conversational faith that reinforces how and why these things are important to your family.
The admonition to attach symbols to hands, foreheads, doorways and gates reminded the Israelites that their lives revolved around God’s Word. The modern equivalent is to find ways that your child’s environment reinforces the truths of Jesus you profess.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6 is one of the Bible’s most popular verses on parenting. But it’s critical to understand it correctly. Otherwise, it can become one of the most demoralizing verses on parenting.
The intent is to point out how important it is to be strategic and intentional in parenting. Raising passionate Jesus followers or even good citizens takes intentionality. Parents need to know what kind of adults they want to produce and then do their best to raise their children with that end in mind.
It’s important to understand that the Book of Proverbs often teaches principles rather than promises. If you want to raise godly adults, you should do your best to steer them in that direction. But two children raised in the exact same Christian environment can end up very differently.
Many parents have done their best to raise their children correctly, and those children have chosen to go in their own direction. This can create a crisis of faith for parents who view Proverbs 22:6 as a promise. But as a principle, beginning your parenting journey with an end in mind is critical.
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them (Proverbs 13:24, NIV).
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die (Proverbs 23:13, NIV).
A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother (Proverbs 29:15, NIV).
Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire (Proverbs 29:17, NIV).
Without discipline, children develop the behavioral patterns that make the most sense to them — and that’s not good for anyone.
Children raised without discipline bring disgrace to their parents. Their choices reveal that they never had consequences. An absence of consequences is truly a form of neglect. Disciplining children isn’t easy. To do it wisely requires a lot of discernment, strategy and effort. But it’s easier to discipline younger children who are developing than it is to try and fix the problems that a lack of discipline introduces.
Think of it like planting a garden. The proper care of a growing garden is time-consuming. It requires weeding and pruning. But it’s less work than letting a garden grow however it chooses and then trying to change it after the fact. Once the weeds have overtaken it and all the plants and trees are overgrown or diseased, the effort required to turn things around is immense.
Proverbs 23:13 often gets misinterpreted as, “Don’t hesitate to spank children. A good swatting won’t kill them.” This wasn’t written during a time when physical punishment was a hot-button issue, and it shouldn’t be considered an apologetic for a certain style of punishment. The proverb is issuing a much sterner warning: Neglecting to discipline your child at all can lead to disastrous results.
Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
Paul, who wrote this letter, doesn’t give instructions about child-rearing, but he makes a point about parenting while he is illustrating something else.
Paul is addressing the Corinthian church’s frustration that he isn’t allowing them to support him. The apostle is doing manual labor and building financial support among other churches. The Corinthians feel like they’re not allowed to express their love and appreciation for Paul by supporting him. But Paul knows that allowing them to support him would change the relationship. He would be subservient to them.
He uses the example of parenting here to demonstrate that the relationship shouldn’t work that way. Children shouldn’t have to scrimp and save to support their parents. On the contrary, parents pour themselves out to serve their children. By doing so, they maintain authority over and respect from their children.
While this example shouldn’t be taken as a biblical prescription, it’s hard to miss the logic in it. It dramatically changes the relationship when parents are reliant upon their children. Even though first-century parents would eventually find themselves being cared for by their heir, their estate would become the child’s to help cover those expenses.
For modern parents, this is a good reminder that parenting is more than leading and guiding. There is a responsibility for parents not to place unnecessary burdens on their children — especially if they want to maintain a healthy parent-child dynamic.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Even with the best intentions, it’s easy to be overly forceful. This is a danger specific to parents with expectations. Having too specific an idea of how you’re hoping they’ll turn out can create expectations that are difficult for them to live up to.
It can be easy to exasperate your children by harping on every misstep and placing upon them the constant requirement that they don’t mess up. Sometimes, these expectations come from the genuine desire not to see your children make the same mistakes as you.
These best intentions can easily go awry when raising children. It’s simple to reinforce a “gospel” that’s more about conforming to a list of demands and authority than truly embracing a Christian worldview. There’s a fine line when it comes to training them to love the Lord while not antagonizing them every time they make a mistake.
Paul reinforces this message in his letter to the Colossian church, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV).
Before Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection, He gave His disciples clear instructions: They were to go into all the world and teach people to follow Jesus (what we call “making disciples”), baptizing them and teaching them to obey His teachings (Matthew 28:18–20). Before they did that, He instructed them to wait to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4–8).
When it comes to making disciples, families are a critical mission field. It’s in your home and with your children that you share the good news of Jesus and demonstrate what it looks like to truly follow Him. But to do that, you need to recognize the second part of this equation.
Jesus spent three years with the disciples. They had experienced and seen amazing things. They were itching to tell the world about the Messiah, but Jesus instructed them to wait.
Why? They weren’t ready.
The disciples needed something else. They needed the Holy Spirit, who would give them the ability to live out the gospel and share it with power and authority.
If the Spirit was an integral element of evangelism and disciple-making, how much more so is He integral to raising your family? Parenting advice is useful, but it won’t make up for a deficiency in this area. Christian parenting is an extension of the Christian life — and that requires walking in the Spirit.
There’s no way around the fact that what makes you a fruitful follower of Jesus also makes you a fruitful parent. It’s the Spirit that fills your life with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness (Galatians 5:16–17), and this fruit makes all the difference. These are the traits that God has — that enable Him to lead you, guide you and deal with you when you’re on your worst behavior. And they’re what will get you through too.
Are there some things about parenting you learned or that you were reminded of that you want to start living out with your kids or the kids you take care of?
To learn more about starting a relationship with God or how to be a better parent by relying on God’s strength rather than your own, check out:
Another great place to find tons of excellent resources on family, parenting and marriage is FamilyLife.com.
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