Christian marriage, like all of life, is shaped by self-denial. There is, of course, an understanding among most adults that we cannot always get our way in human relationships. However, I’m talking about something a little different: the denial of self in pursuit of our daily worship of God. Romans 12:1 teaches we are, by God’s mercy, to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” The motive is not inward, but an act of worship toward God. As John Calvin has said, that “we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory.” (On the Christian Life, Chapter 2, Section 1). Glorifying God should happen in all of life, so what shape does that take in our marriage relationships?
- Think Sympathetically. The apostle Paul tells the Philippian Christians to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Our Heavenly Father is all those things and, as his adopted children, we are to imitate him (Eph. 5:1). All people are a little irritating at times, but think on that which is excellent: the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of your spouse. Think of the ways your spouse has been used by God to bless and sanctify you. In doing so, you give glory to God for the goodness he has worked in your spouse.
- Communicate Graciously. So often we communicate our love for each other according to our own preferences. We should instead take account of the likes and needs of our spouse in a kind and tenderhearted way (Eph. 4:32). If your wife needs help managing the children we are not expressing concern about them when we buy them our favorite cordless drill. That purchase was made for you, not her. God calls us to love our fellow man as ourselves. Since our spouses are included within that category, we should honor the Lord in our expressions of affection by being tender-hearted as he commands.
- Serve Selflessly. The first years marriage, Lisa and I would argue about who worked harder. We were both convinced we were shouldering the bulk of the family’s load. Obviously we were thinking of our own glory instead of God’s. Yet he commands us to “through love, serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13). The most important question is not whether you are working harder than your spouse, but whether you are effectively and selflessly performing your God-ordained role. In doing so you give glory to God.
The Bible tells us we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The reflection of the content of your heart can only be seen by what you do. It is not most clearly seen in what we do when we know everyone is watching, but around the one person most likely accept us despite all our warts and sins.
“Do not bear false witness…” It sounds so legal. Do we really have to prepare our children for the courtroom? Well, in a sense yes. As parents we are called to teach our children diligently throughout our day, to love God’s word. So, as parents, we are preparing our children for the courtroom by teaching them the importance of the truth. Our level of commitment in this area may greatly influence them should they stand in a courtroom one day.
In the Bible, God is identified as the truth. Jesus teaches his disciples he “is the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6, ESV). Our false witness bearing, therefore, is really an attack on the character of God. It is possible we are permitting such attacks in our homes. Let’s look at a few possible ways this happens and some suggested remedies.
- Tattling. One form of false-witness bearing shows up as soon as children can talk: tattling. When a child tattles he does not necessarily speak lies, but his primary concern is not truth. The heart attitude behind tattling is one of delighting in someone’s affliction, whether justified or not. What we will want to teach our children is a love for truth. To use the truth for sinful purposes represents a corruption of something beautiful. Instead help your children find opportunities to help, encourage, and build up others.
- Lying. Lying is a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth. Our children might lie to look impressive, get out of trouble, or for a number of other reasons. Lying says, “I will preserve and further myself.” I have always found a child’s lie a particularly painful experience in parenting because it reveals our child’s heart. Avoiding trouble is more important to them in those moments than truth and trust. The antidote is to model honesty to your children, to praise them when they tell the truth, and require them to be honest. All lies, no matter how small they may seem, matter. Do not permit them in your home.
- Deception. Deception is almost identical to lying. The only difference is that, in deception, the person acts rather than speaks. For example, the child who smuggles books, food or other contraband into bed. At root, the intention of lying and deception is the same: to mask truth to further our agenda. As parents we cannot permit our children to keep their contraband. But don’t miss the opportunity to look into the window the deceiver has given you into his heart: their personal pleasure is more important to them than honoring God.
Our children will, at times, make decisions that disappoint and hurt us. Though painful, their actions should not be surprising. They, like we, are sinners. It is our job to disciple our children through these sinful decisions. We are to lead them in a pursuit of God through Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.
When we think about stealing we usually begin with the assumption that one man takes what belongs to another without permission. But perhaps we should back up a little. Perhaps we should begin with the knowledge that all things belong to God. That would mean, ultimately, that stealing is taking that which God gave to another and making it our own. In other words, theft is a man-centered rebellion against God’s distribution of his possessions. This understanding makes the offense a bit weightier and in need of our attention.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, a 17th century doctrinal summary of what the Bible teaches, states the positive requirements of the commandment not to steal as the “lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.” (WSC #74). What are some ways we allow our children to violate this commandment right under our noses?
- Taking without asking. Seems obvious, but so much of it happens in such a mundane way. Taking food without asking, appropriating mom and dad’s favorite wardrobe items, playing with toys. These are all be examples of theft. Hardly the equivalent of grand theft auto, but theft nonetheless.
- Cheating. The more common forms of cheating in parenting will deal with school and games. When our children cheat on tests, they are using a short-cut. They are stealing the time it took another person to study and trying to reap their benefits. Cheating in board-games and sports means the “thief” tries to further his own outward estate without abiding by the laws of the game.
- Manipulation. The manipulator is a creative thief. They convince someone to hand over their possessions. However, the reason behind their behavior is the same. When our children convince a younger sibling to trade a “little” dime for a “huge” nickel, the aggressor wants that dime. The problem for him is that it was either not given to him, or he did not work to earn it. Instead of applying proper work to obtain his own dime, the child uses a slight-of-hand approach.
- Emotional Theft. Perhaps one of our children has competed in a race and won. He comes exuberantly to show his ribbon. If his sibling’s response is to say, “You weren’t even close to the record,” or “Last year I ran this race faster,” they are stealing joy or delight from their brother or sister. This kind of behavior also manifests itself if a child is in the middle of an exciting story and the brother or sister jumps in right before the climax and finishes it off for them.
So now what? Parenting is never done well from a couch or an armchair. It requires action, wisdom, authority and time, and lots of it. Make sure your children understand the implications of the commandment not to steal. If they do, teach them to restore what they have taken, if that is possible. But also spend time giving them the opportunity to be generous and willing to share.
Adultery. It is a prominent theme in the entertainment and fashion of our culture. I do not mean that every TV show or movie is about adultery, but adultery is part of most entertainment we see. Maybe not physical adultery, but sexual innuendos, provocative dress, unbridled passion between unmarried people… They all feed into a spirit of adultery.
Christians understand the Bible forbids adultery. It clearly condemns the physical kind in Exodus 20:15. Jesus broadens the application of the 7th commandment when he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28). These words turn adultery from an exclusively physical act into something found also in our thoughts and motivations. Our culture’s constant portrayal of adultery as something normal can easily take root in us, let alone our children. So what guidance can we give them to help conform their minds to Christ instead of the world?
- Teach Your Daughters to Dress Modestly. I know there is disagreement as to what is modest and provocative when it comes to dress. However, we should not therefore assume that everything is modest. Let me offer a solution. Look at the headlines of the fashion magazines. Many are explicitly geared toward a woman’s sexual appeal to men. They are trying to help their readers achieve these headlines in part through fashion. So, if my daughter has a “look” resembling what is in those magazines, she is wearing clothing designed to achieve sexual appeal. This clothing violates the 7th commandment by inviting lust.
- Teach Your Sons to Respect Women. People critical of discussions on modesty often ask the following question: “Why is the responsibility for keeping the 7th commandment always the girls’?” They make a very good point. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount the assumption is that you do not have to look lustfully. It is a choice, and a sinful one at that. Teach your sons to respect the ladies they meet. Teach them to look them in the eye, to be sincerely interested in them as people, and to delight in serving them. The “oogler” violates the 7th commandment by practicing lust.
- Control Your Family Entertainment Mediums. In parenting, we are trying to help our children think according to God’s word. We will not be able to compete with a billion dollar industry when it comes to presentation. Be wise. Just because it’s on and keeps our children occupied does not mean it is godly or good. Parental laziness violates the 7th commandment by not protecting our children from lustful thought patterns.
What are we hoping to accomplish in our homes? We are charged by God to show our children what it means to love him. Let us be diligent, not surrendering our children’s minds to the patterns of this world.
I’m assuming most people are not having to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to explain to their children that homicide is sinful. It is a basic idea: murder is not okay. Even little children understand this truth. However, how many of us are thinking beyond the narrow reading of the sixth commandment and seeing the broader application as defined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? Jesus expands our understanding of murder. He puts anger and murder in the same category: a failure to rule over your emotions and passions. In Matthew 5:21-24, Jesus uses strong language to warn those who neglect this commandment with the “fire of hell.” I wonder if we take that warning seriously enough to help our children navigate through the difficult challenges of managing their feelings and emotions according to the word of God?
Emotions are powerful and can easily be abused even while doing something “good.” I remember from my own childhood. During family worship one evening my older brother and I were asked to recite our memory work from Matthew 11:28-30. As my older brother struggled through the verses I sought to “help” him when he got stuck. I remember delighting in showing him how much better I knew the verses. I quickly forgot all the times when he had known his verses better than I. And so anger broke into the peaceful bliss of the Gleason home. Right as my brother was reciting “for I am gentle and lowly in heart…” my final prod pushed him over the edge. He turned without blinking and punched me in the arm as hard as he could. My pride and his anger both were sins against the 6th commandment. Both of us were in need of forgiveness because we did not control our emotions. With both transgressions common in our families, how do we help our children navigate these waters?
- Teach them what is right. So much of parenting is spent on correction, but we also must remember the positive instructions. These are the conversations we have with our children when all is well. When your child has hit his sibling, teach him about gentleness as you share a walk with him. When your child is manifesting pride, talk to him about humility on your way to the grocery store. When he becomes a “name caller,” teach him about encouragement as you tuck them into bed at night. Help them learn to control their passions.
- Correct what is wrong. Most parents are more naturally attuned to this part of parenting. However, you have to learn to recognize the transgressions. Do you let your children slam doors? stomp out of the room in anger? lash out with their tongues? Your children should understand these expressions are not permitted in your home. More than that, they should understand these expressions are not permitted in your home because they dishonor God.
When we think of idolatry, what do we picture? Perhaps we picture a large golden statue, like what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were commanded to worship. Certainly the Babylonians were engaging in idolatry. However, idolatry requires no statues, candles, shrines or chants. It exists in all of us.
Idolatry is something of the heart. It is an practice that identifies where our trust truly lies. Richard Baxter in his work The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, describes it this way: “It is gross idolatry to make any creature, or means, our rest.” In a sense, all our sin is idolatry. Every time we sin we find our rest in our own preferences rather than in a joyful, loving and thankful obedience to our Savior.
The 2nd commandment calls us back to that joyful obedience. We are quick to forget the right worship of the Lord, but we can also allow our children to form idolatrous habits, if we are not careful. We can actually encourage these habits by:
- Not addressing disobedience. I have seen each of my 10 children move from the newborn to the toddler stage. I have observed a common trait in all of them regardless of their personality and gender: never once did I have to teach them to disobey my instructions. At some point their little sin natures said to themselves, “I don’t think I would like to obey daddy.” Cute as the expression of their wills may be in small children, if we do not address their disobedience, we are giving them permission to find their rest in their own preferences.
- Allowing them to run their own day. When we allow our children to use their time almost exclusively in the pursuit of their own interests, we teach our children the day is theirs. Lack of chores, exclusively choosing their own activities, or a full slate of recreational activities all foster this attitude. We should teach our children to think of others through involvement in family hospitality, chores, or by encouraging them to play with a younger sibling. Help your child see their rest is not in their own preferences but in showing God’s love to others through service.
- Sports/Recreation. Our children may be gifted in soccer, baseball, ballet or some other sport. When our child’s team is scheduled to play on Sunday morning do we endorse or repudiate idolatry? When their performance falls on the Lord’s Day what is more important to us: the performance or the corporate worship of God’s people? In granting permission to attend the Sunday performance we have tacitly agreed that sports and recreation supersedes God’s call on our lives. We have made our success our rest, rather than the Lord.
This is not a complete list, to be sure. It is simply meant to help us get started in thinking through the different ways we can, in fact, encourage our children to make a carved image in their own hearts.
One time my wife and I gave our oldest daughter a doll house. She had waited for what must have seemed like an eternity. Finally on her third birthday we gave her the doll house as a gift. When she took off her blindfold and saw the gift set up on the table for her all she could do is jump for joy, shout “thank yous”, and hug and kiss her mom and me. We could tell it was a precious gift for her.
Transitioning now to the spiritual realm, our response is not often the same when it comes to the gift of eternal life. We know from the Bible the God is the maker of all things. He made all things visible, invisible, spiritual, or material. Everything we see around us is obligated to him. The bad news is that we also know from the Bible that we sin against God every day. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are not faithful to him, neither can they be because of our sinful nature. This condition places us in a position of great guilt before him. Only when we realize the truth both of who God is and who we are will we realize the greatness of his gift to us. If we do not think much of the greatness of God, we will not realize his gracious condescension. If we are not aware of the depth of our sin, we will not grasp our desperate need of salvation. Without this understanding the Bible will be just another fantastical fairy-tale, or some opium for the masses.
However, the Bible is good news for those who receive God’s promises by faith. In fact, the news is so good, our response should be 10,000 times that of my daughter when she received her doll-house. If someone gave you one million dollars, you would do more than buy a canned Hallmark card and no one would have to tell you to do so. Yet we Christians often respond with apathy and indifference toward the things of God. It seems we have missed the preciousness of God’s gift to us.
Spend some time in Genesis 1-3, meditate on the significance of what is recorded there and go out and live with joyful enthusiasm for the God who made you, redeemed you and sustains you.
Every time I drive from Augusta to Waynesboro I pass a sign. In big, bold letters it proclaims: “God is not angry with you, no matter what.” That may sound fantastic, but it is not biblical. After God made Adam he commanded him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen. 2:16-17, ESV). Of course, we know Adam & Eve did eat of this forbidden fruit. Their rebellion against God immediately changed them.
The next time we see Adam & Eve they are hiding in the garden because they hear God approaching. They know their relationship with God has been severed. They know they are deserving of God’s judgment and it won’t be pretty. Of course, judgment is not a popular idea in our day. However unpopularity has never negated truth. The Bible tells us Adam sinned and we all sinned in him (Rom. 5:12). That means God’s wrath rests on us because of our ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). So it seems we are in a heap of trouble.
A healthy understanding of God’s wrath against our sin teaches us about our condition as people. We are in desperate need of someone to save us. However, if we do not reflect on God’s wrath against sin, why would we want to change anything? Let me illustrate. Recently, I began hearing a rattling sound from the front left side of my car. I just ignored it because the workings of the automobile are a mystery to me. However, I gave one of my fellow elders a ride one day and he pointed out that I had a broken strut. He told me I needed to get it fixed. Without him showing me the condition of my car, I would have happily put up with a little bit of road noise. The same is true when it comes to our need for salvation. God tells us of our sin and guilt so we would know we are in need of salvation. He tells us so we might flee to the cross of Christ.
God hates sin. He is wrathful toward it. We would do well not to minimize the Bible’s teaching on this subject but use it make us see we need to turn us to Christ or face God’s judgment.