Originally Published: 11-3-2017
A child’s behavior can be so important to parents that it overshadows what the real target is in raising a child, his heart. The heart is the core of our being where our emotions and desires dwell. Behavior is how we conduct ourselves in this life. The outward behavior can appear to be obedience but the heart may be totally disobedient. As parents, we need to seek to understand and guide the heart of the child. We can pick up some tips by looking at Matthew 23 which is the account of Jesus speaking about the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus gives examples of how these men were more concerned about their outward behavior than their hearts. How can these examples help us?
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” Matthew 23:2-5a
These verses contain some warnings we can apply to our parenting.
- Practice what you preach. We can’t help our children to see the motives of their own hearts if we don’t practice obedience ourselves. We can’t live one way and expect them to live another. A parent’s heart is on display with every choice we make. We’ve heard it said, “Do what I say not what I do!” This is a big plank in a parent’s eye that needs to be removed. The truth is, but for the grace of Christ, they will do exactly as we do.
- Don’t load down children with too many rules. We need to be aware of how many expectations we put on children. Too many rules will only make them angry. The truth is children are just like us in that they don’t want to be told what to do. We must remember that we are to train them and keep them safe so there should be some rules. Remember to make it simple. If we train with a general rule of obedience and honor based on Ephesians 6:1-2 then it will be less cumbersome for children to follow.
- Your children’s behavior is not about you. A parent loves to be proud of her children. But this pride becomes a problem when our desire is for a perfect child. It causes parents to take everything a child does personally; which will result in an angry response to their behavior. Our anger can be the result of embarrassment. All this teaches a child is that if they’re not perfect then anger is the result. There is no training in that. Pride and embarrassment are about the parent, not a loving response to help a child respond well in similar circumstances.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23
As parents we need to look deeper than behavior. Our focus often can be on our children’s actions rather than on the reasons behind the actions. Our children need us to not be so focused on correcting their behavior that we miss who they are. We need to learn to interact with children so that we can begin to understand them and train them. We often neglect simply playing with our children and miss the opportunities to discover their motives, their understanding, and the joy of laughing with them.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26
Good behavior is not a true sign of obedience. We know as adults we can do the right thing for the wrong reason and so can children. They may want a reward, attention, praise, to look good, or to be better than someone else. These are all wrong motives. Manipulation is a huge motivation for doing the right thing in order to get their way. An example is that of your child taking out the garbage and grumbling all the way. This is not obedience. There is a heart attitude that needs to be addressed. This is not a time for praise but one for questions. Asking questions to understand what is going on in the heart of the grumbler will be helpful in the training process.
The gospel is the answer. In the end, raising children is not about producing good children but about the gospel. We have to continually bring Christ into the picture when we discipline our children. It is important to remind them of sin against God but also remind them of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s grace. We need to be humble enough to admit to our children that we too are sinners and struggle but God’s grace, through Christ’s sacrifice, is sufficient. As you parent, remember that you are not perfect; actually you are weak but God gives grace and His grace is sufficient.