WHAT IS THE ESSENTIAL FOUNDATION for effective parenting? Christians answer this question in varied ways. Some would say it is love for children. Others that it’s the willingness to educate them in a Christian school. Many would say discipline and affection. While all of these matter, they are not the essential foundation. The crucial building block is loving God more than your children. Here is how Jesus framed it—
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:25-27
Of course, Jesus does not literally want us to hate our children. No, we are commanded to love them as we are commanded to love all people everywhere (Ephesians 5:25, 1 Corinthians 13). In this passage, Jesus exaggerates to make a point, and it is simple and counterintuitive. We are only equipped to love people to the degree that we love God more than people. Nowhere is this more true than with our children. The benefits of loving God more than our children are transparent.
First, we will enjoy our children, but we will not look to them to provide the ultimate happiness and meaning that only comes from God. In other words, they will not become idols.
Second, we will love them the way God wants us to love them, and since “God is love,” that means they will get the love they really need. We will practice corporeal punishment. We will not enable our 28-year-old unemployed son to live in the basement and play video games. Instead, we will joyfully endure his scorn and anger by setting limits he may not like. We will require our children to work, earn money, be thankful and push through obstacles. In other words, we will graciously push them. If they wanted a new bike, we would pay half, but they had to earn the rest. We paid for half of their college education. They worked during the summers and the school year to pay the make up the difference. We pushed them because we loved God more than our children.
They seldom liked it. For example, one of our strategies was zone weeding. Each child had a zone in the yard that they were responsible to keep weed-free. Our five children absolutely hated this. Today, grown and married, they laugh about zone-weeding. What motivated us to do this? Loving God more than our children motivated us to endure their youthful abuse.
It’s important to explain this to your children. I want you to know that I am disciplining you because I love God more than you. He commands me to discipline your sinful behavior.
Old Testament Example
A difficult passage in the Old Testament epitomizes this approach. It was in the background of Jesus’ thought when he articulated Luke 14.
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.Deuteronomy 21:18–21
Although this passage no longer applies to Believing parents, its spirit does. Do you love God so much more than your children that you would be willing to turn them over for capital punishment if that was God’s will? This is an extremely difficult demand, but it underscores the truth that God wants himself, not our children, to be the center of our lives and the source of our happiness and fulfillment.
Almost nothing is more harmful to children than the child-centeredness of helicopter parenting. It is the idolatrous opposite of “hating” your children. Yet, child-centeredness, building your family around your children rather than God, is the norm in our culture. It is deadly to marriage, to our spiritual life, and most importantly, to our children.
The Christian family should be father-centered not child-centered. The parents should be focused on God, not their children. The children should be centered on their parents and ultimately God. This means the family doesn’t miss church for soccer games. It means the family gathers together for a daily meal even if it means jettisoning some child activities. It means the regular reading and application of God’s word together as a family.
What are some other benefits of God-centered parenting? You will live beyond your feelings. You will love and discipline your children when you don’t feel like it. You will be affectionate with them when you don’t feel like it. You will love them impartially, not showing favoritism to one child over another. You will conduct family devotions when you don’t feel like it. Why? You are motivated to please God, not your children. You are living for God, not your children.
This will bless your children. They will grow up feeling loved and secure. They will want a marriage like yours, and they will want the God that produced it. In the end they will have children, and they also will love God more than their children. This means you will rejoice in your descendants to the third, fourth, and fifth generations. And that is God’s promise to those who love him.
For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.Exodus 20:5-6