by Wendell E. Miller

Rearing children in our materialistic and humanistic world
demands more than a strong human resolve on the part of parents.
It requires knowing and applying basic biblical principles.


Q. In a recent column, you said that Ephesians 6:4 provides a biblical framework for child-rearing principles into which all biblical principles of child rearing will fit. Also, you said that this framework consists of "nurture and admonition"; and that "nurture" includes every biblical principle to structure the child's mind and his actions. What are some of these child-rearing principles?

A. Many principles of child rearing can be divided into categories of "positive incentives" and "negative incentives."

One of the most effective positive incentives is that of parental approval. Jesus gives us the example of voicing approval of both the deed and the person. In the parable of Matthew 25:21, the master said to his servant, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." Thus, it is biblical to compliment your child on both his actions and his character.

If you are to use this biblical principle of positive incentives to help in structuring your children's behavior, you should compliment them far more often than you criticize them. If not, they may lose heart and decide that it is not possible to please you, and then they may decide that it is not worthwhile trying to please you.

Included in positive biblical incentives are rewards. Notice that in the parable of Matthew 25:21, the faithful servant was rewarded in addition to being praised for both his deeds and his personal character.

A reward system is quite effective for structuring children and youth in good habit patterns and in personal responsibility. Of course, for younger children, the rewards must come much more quickly after fulfilling the responsibility than is necessary for older children.

Younger children respond favorably to daily rewards of stars placed on charts, followed up by a weekly monetary reward that is in accordance with the number of stars earned.

In addition to helping structure their children's lives in personal responsibility, parents can help structure their children's lives in the use of their financial resources.

Rewards as positive incentives are biblical; so feel free to use them. Remember, Dad, you go to work because you get paid, not out of the goodness of your heart; so do not disdain monetary rewards for your children.

Of course, negative incentives are biblical; and spanking is taught specifically in the Scriptures (Prov. 13:24); but there are at least two things to avoid--spanking out of frustration or anger, and the tendency to spank for every type of offense. God has not said that you must spank for every type of offense, nor has He specified which offenses require spanking.

If you are not using positive incentives to bring about biblical changes in your children, and if you are not using some negative incentives in addition to spanking, you are missing much that God would have you to do in "bringing up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

However (and this may surprise you), if you do everything that has been taught above and do not add certain other child-rearing principles, then your child rearing will amount to little more than the secular system of behaviorism.

Surprised? Yes, strange as it may seem at first, it is possible to use some biblical principles of child rearing without the total child-rearing system being more than behaviorism.

The addition of three principles of Deuteronomy 6 must be added to the foregoing principles in order to have a child-rearing system that qualifies as being fully biblical.

One of these three principles of child rearing is found in verse 7. In this verse parents are commanded to teach their children diligently. As seen in verse 6, the command is to teach children the Word of God.

The basic idea of the Hebrew word, which is translated "teach them diligently," is "to sharpen." If we consider the slow and tedious way in which people must have had to sharpen their harvesting scythes in those days, it appears that the King James Version correctly translates the idea of "sharpening" by the words, "teach them diligently." Teaching children the Word of God diligently is an every day, every year, task for parents.

Thus, one way of structuring your children's minds is to teach them the Scriptures, starting as soon as--and even before--they are able to understand the Scriptures to any extent.

As they are taught the Scriptures, they learn about God, His holiness, the seriousness of sin, His love, the outpouring of His love on the cross, and salvation through grace and faith. This structuring of minds prepares them for salvation as the Holy Spirit works through the Word, as well as developing a God-consciousness in them.

Another of the child-rearing principles in Deuteronomy 6 is also found in verse 7. In this second principle, the Bible commands parents to "talk of them"--the Scriptures--all through the day and upon every occasion.

It would be interesting if some special word had been translated "talk"; but the word that is used in the Hebrew text is a "garden variety" word that is used hundreds of times in the Old Testament; and all it means is "talk."

However, it seems clear that this "talking" about the Scriptures all through the day, and upon every occasion, is to develop a biblical philosophy of life in the children. That is, the purpose for talking about the Scriptures is to develop in the children the ability, and the habit, to look at everything in the world as God sees it.

Thus, by talking about every event that touches your children's lives and discussing what God says about that event, your children will develop a biblical philosophy of life--they will look at that event as God looks at it.

So whether it be a problem in playing with other children, or whether it be a news event, God wants your children to understand what He says about it, to learn to look at that event as God looks at it, and to develop the habit of looking at all things as He looks at them.

Naturally, the world wants your children to have a worldly philosophy of life. The world wants your children to develop a materialistic philosophy of life and a humanistic philosophy of life. The world wants your children to develop a philosophy of life in which God is not even important enough to mention, much less to consider His will through His revealed Word.

A third principle in child rearing is found in verse 5 of the same chapter. This verse commands that the parents love God wholeheartedly; that is, the command is that parents be wholly dedicated to God.

Where is the child-rearing principle? The child-rearing principle is the principle of modeling. Notice that this command for the parents to be right with God precedes the other two principles of child rearing.

Of course, your children may be saved by the Word even if your life does not show it; but, on the other hand, they may rebel against all that God teaches if they do not see the truth in you.

Further, how effective do you think you will be in developing a biblical philosophy of life in your children if they see that you do not believe what you are saying and live what you are saying?

Jesus taught this principle of modeling in Luke 6:40 when he said, "The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master." Or, a student is not above his teacher; but every one that is fully trained shall be as his teacher.

Or, paraphrased: A child is not above the ones that model for him; but every child that is fully trained will have copied, and will be like, someone who has modeled for him.

Now it is evident that spanking, in itself, is not biblical "nurture." In like manner, combining all positive and negative incentives does not produce child rearing that qualifies as biblical "nurture."

But if a child is taught what God says, if a child is helped to develop a biblical philosophy of life, and if parents, and if other of the child's teachers, model a biblical philosophy of life, and both positive and negative incentives are used also, then the child is receiving biblical "nurture."

To qualify for biblical "nurture and admonition," biblical "admonition"--warning the child with scriptural truths--must be added to biblical "nurture."

Then, and only then, are you obeying the command to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."

The desired result of biblical "nurture and admonition" is future godliness. This is God's goal for your child; this must be your goal for your child; and you must--God commands it--provide the "nurture and admonition" that He teaches as the means to achieve His goal.


Copyright 1985 by Wendell E. Miller
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