Several weeks ago at my church, my eyes were opened to a biblical passage. It is one that I have read many times, but this particular sermon would cause me to view it in a whole new way. What I had previously read as a general reprimand to a wayward church now appeared as a model for parenting. With Father’s Day fast approaching, I think this is an important verse for Dad’s to study. That passage in question is from 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 and was written by Paul to the church in Corinth:
“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” [1 Corinthians 4:14-21 ESV]
The passage was written by Paul in the context of correcting the church at Corinth as was the entire book of 1 Corinthians. However, viewed in the light of Paul’s statement that, “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” we can also view this passage as a biblical model of what fatherly confrontation, correction and discipleship should look like. Before I work through the meat of this verse, and what it means to effective parenting, I would like to thank my Pastor Steve Benninger for his insights into this passage which opened my eyes to it’s application to parenting in the first place and also for his faithfulness in preaching the Word of God. For purposes of this article, I have adhered to Pastor Steve’s original exposition and added my own additional detail and thoughts for each point.
So, what does this passage teach us about how to parent, specifically father, our children? What is this biblical model? Pastor Steve identified 10 keys from this passage which I would like to expand upon:
1. Affirm Your Love
Paul writes that the purpose of this passage was to admonish his readers as beloved children. Any correction or guidance that we give to our kids must be done from a position of, and rooted in, unconditional love. We must never correct out of anger or a selfish desire that our kids would act a certain way to make our lives easy. The purposes of biblical correction is not to change behavior but to disciple our kids to become more like Jesus. A key part of this pursuit is your kids knowing that you love – not because of what they have or haven’t done, but because they are your kids.
Your child’s realization of your love for them is not something that just happens on its own. You must be intentional and work at it to make certain that your kids know that you love them. Tell them you love them on a daily basis. Show them how you love them through both your words and your actions. If your kids do not know and accept that you love them unconditionally, then any effort on your part to correct them will be met with suspicion and ultimately failure.
Unconditional love is not based on your kids performance or abilities. Unconditional love manifests itself regardless of what your kids have or have not done. Unconditional love must be consistently professed and demonstrated to your kids in both good times and bad. Unconditional love should exist and be demonstrated regardless of how you feel. Biblical love is not a feeling, it is a choice! Any discipline or correction that you dole out as a parent must be rooted not in your own selfish desires but in a deep rooted and unconditional love for your kids.
2. Avoid Shaming Your Kids
Paul begins this passage with an explanation that his purpose was not to “write these things to make you ashamed.” Paul did not wish to shame the Corinthians, but to help them see that they were living in a way contrary to God’s will. Likewise, shame has no place in biblical correction as a parent. Your goal as a parent when it comes to correcting your children is to lead them into a life consistent with God’s will for them. Consequences, especially consequences which flow naturally from the action in question, are effective means of accomplishing this. Shame is based in fear. The Bible tells us that “There is no fear in love.” [1 John 4:18 ESV]. Accordingly, shame should not play any part in correction which must be based in love. Not only is shame unbiblical, it is also ineffective. Although you might see short term behavioral changes when you shame your kids, there will be no long lasting internal transformation.
3. Give Warnings
Paul indicated that he was writing to the Corinthians “to admonish” them as his beloved children. To admonish means to “reprove gently but earnestly” or “to counsel against something to be avoided” or “to remind of something forgotten or disregarded, as an obligation or a responsibility.” Paul was not writing to bring down the hammer, but to warn the Corinthians of what would happen if they continued in the current course of action.
As fathers, we must do the same thing with our kids. By warning, or admonishing, I do not mean that we should give them the classic, “If you do that again you’ll lose such and such until kingdom come.” These threats tend to be hollow and effective. The idea of admonishing or warning or to alert kids of the consequences of their actions. To the extent that those consequences flow naturally from the action in question, our role as fathers is to alert our kids to those consequences. Obviously, one of our roles as parents is also to impose consequences where needed, and we should warn our kids that these are coming as well. Any consequences which you impose should be made clear before the action and must be followed through on. Warnings serve to help steer our kids in the right direction.
4. Establish Your Authority
Paul reminded the Corinthians that “though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers” and used this to establish his authority to correct the recipients of his letter. When it comes to parenting, our authority comes directly from God. He has given us the stewardship over, and responsibility for, his children. With that responsibility, he has given parents authority over their children [Exodus 20:12 ESV]. As parents, it is beneficial to help our kids understand God has given us both authority over them and responsibility for them. As agents of God, we must exercise that authority consistent with God’s will. By explaining to our kids that we are acting under the authority of God, we also set an example for them of submitting to our authority.
When we step outside the authority and will of God in parenting, we ultimately teach our kids that they should defy authority as well. We establish our authority based on the Word of God, but we must also demonstrate our adherence to God’s Word in other aspects of our life. We can’t, for example, tell our kids that they must submit to our authority because it is given by God on the one hand, and on the other hand disregard God’s authority in our own lives.
5. Press the Gospel in Deep
Paul became a father “through the gospel,” and as earthly fathers, one of principle goals in life should be to also fill the role of spiritual father in our children’s lives “through the Gospel.” In order to do this, the gospel must be the center point in our lives and out families. We must strive to make it central in the lives of our children as well.
The gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ, and that Good News is recorded in God’s Word – the Bible. In all that we do, we must instill a biblical worldview in our kids. We must teach them, and demonstrate for them, that the Bible holds the answers and guidance for all of lives questions. We must make our choices based on the Bible and show them how to do the same.
The cross itself must be central in our lives and our families. This means far more than just wearing it around our necks or hanging it on the family room wall. We must rejoice in the cross of Christ. We must take our sin to the cross of Christ, and we must praise God for the cross. Our children must know, at their very core, that Christ died not just for all sin, but for their individual sins. They must understand that God wants to change them from the inside out by the power of the cross. They must realize that their sins are washed white as snow by Christ’s blood shed on the cross. Yes, in order to confront and correct our children, we must remind them 1) that they are forgiven by God and 2) the price that he paid to wash those sins away.
6. Urge Your Kids to Imitate You
Paul was not shy about encouraging the Corinthians to be imitators of him. Later in this same book (1 Corinthians 11:1), Paul would expand on this thought as he encouraged the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Paul was not exalting himself but merely stating that he purposefully led his life in such a way that others could imitate him in following Christ.
As fathers, this must be our goal as well. We must lead lives worth imitating and then encourage our kids to do just that. Kids will learn what they live. If a father insists that his child does not lie than turns around and cheats on his income taxes, his children will not learn from his father’s words but by his actions. Setting an example includes two distinct aspects. First, we must aspire to live a godly life worthy of following. We have to set the tone and example for our family. In order to do this, we must rely on the power and providence of God. Secondly, we must accept that, this side of heaven, none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, and it is important that we be willing to admit those mistakes to our kids. We should not be under any delusion that our kids think we are perfect in the first place. After about the age of 7 or 8, that phase of life is long gone. Our kids know that we are far from perfect. We must be honest with them and talk about our mistakes. This transparency teaches them that it is OK to make mistakes. The important thing is how we handle those mistakes. We model for them honesty, transparency, and taking our sins to the cross of Christ. We also give our kids a chance to learn from our mistakes and, hopefully, to avoid them.
7. Make it a Team Effort
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.” What can this possibly mean in terms of raising kids? Paul needed help. He could not be everything the Corinthians needed, and he sent Timothy to them to reinforce what he had already taught. Likewise, as parents we should get other adults involved in the lives of our children who will reinforce what we are already teaching them.
Most parents have experienced that moment when another adult says something to their child, and the child just seem to get it. Never mind that we have been saying the same thing for years. There’s just something about hearing it from another adult that makes it understandable and more palatable to our kids. I remember when I started coaching my oldest son’s coach-pitch baseball team. One of the other fathers from the team was helping me, and we agreed between us that I would correct his son and he would do the same for mine. Both kids took the correction and advice much better coming from another adult than they would have coming from their Dad. The system worked well for the summer, and I missed him the next year when his son wasn’t on my team.
It is important to find other adults that you trust to speak into the lives of your children. Needless to say, since our principle goal as parents is to instill a biblical worldview into our children, we must take care to find adults that will speak that same worldview to our kids. We must find people we trust that we can surround our kids with to reinforce what we have already been teaching them. This is one of the reason that it is important to live our lives amongst a strong Christian community. Things like Bible studies and small groups are a great way to expose your kids to other adults.
8. Stay Involved
Paul writes to the Corinthians that “…I will come to you soon.” As parents, we must intentionally stay involved in the lives of our children. Some parents, especially Dads, faced with daunting to do lists, lack of understanding and an increasing sense of failure in parenting simply decide to check out of their kids’ lives. I think this is particularly true as kids grow older and move into the teen years. This is the worst thing you could possibly do both to yourself and to your kids.
We must stay involved in our kids lives. What do they like? What don’t they like? How are they doing in school? Who are their friends? What are their dreams? How is their relationship with God? These are all critical questions, and in order to stay involved, we must stay on top of these and other aspects of our kids’ lives. In order to do this, we must invest the time it takes in building relationships with our kids. Our society has fallen victim to what I believe is a lie directly from Satan that says quality time is better than quantity time. We convince ourselves that it is not the amount of time that we spend but the quality of that time. If we turn off our blackberry for a couple of hours, we reason, that should take care of spending time with our kids at least for a week or so!
In order to know our kids, and stay involved, we must have both quality and quantity time. Indeed, if you ask kids about their regrets as they get older, few will say they wish the time they had spent with their dads had been “better” time. Thousands upon thousands, though, will tell you they wish they had spent MORE time with their Dads. If you are a father, put in the time and the effort to know your kids. If God knows every hair on your head, the least you can do is know who your kids’ friends are!
9. Give Choices
Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you wish?” He gave them a choice. As fathers, we should do the same with our children. In small things and big things we should present our children with choices and let them decide. More importantly though, we must equip them to live with the consequences of those choices. Most parents want their kids to grow up to be leaders and not followers. Part of being a leader is the ability to make a choice and deal with the consequences thereof. If we do not allow our children to practice that skill when they are young, they will be ill equipped to handle choices as an adult.
My son rarely buys anything without experiencing some degree of buyer’s remorse afterwards. As soon as we let him buy something, he always wonders whether he should have saved his money, or worse yet, he finds something shortly after the purchase that he wishes he had saved his money for. From time to time, these episodes result in tears and a lament that would rip your heart apart as a parent. However, in those moments, we must force ourselves to let him live with his choices. If we give in and purchase the second item for him to heal the pain and stop the tears, he never learns how to take ownership of his choices and accept responsibility for them. If we don’t give kids choices, and allow them to live with both the positive and negative consequences of those choices, they will not learn how to be responsible.
10. Customize Your Approach
Paul said to the Corinthians, “Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” Some who read that letter needed Paul to come with a spirit of love and likely reacted to Paul’s written correction positively in order to ensure that he would come in gentleness. Others, no doubt, needed the stern rod of Paul before they were willing to submit to his authority. In a similar way, we must tailor our approach to correction and discipleship for each of our individual children.
I tell people all of the time that one of the things that has amazed me so much as a parent is how each of my kids can be so alike in some respects that they seem like twins and so different in other respects that it seem impossible that they share the same DNA. If you’re a parent, it will not surprise you to find out that each of your kids is different. They are unique creations of God, and it is naive of us to think that correction and discipleship will look the same for each child. What may be the best approach for one child may be the worse possible choice for another. We must customize our approach based on the personality, experience and emotional needs of each child. Of course, this entails knowing them and not checking out of their lives as we discussed earlier. Furthermore, children change over time as they mature and get older. We must customize our approach not only for each child but also for the same child based on their age and maturity level. In order to accomplish this, we must become a student of our kids. Watch them, talk to them, study them, and then spend some time intentionally coming up with a plan for the best approach for each child when it comes to correcting and discipleship.
As we raise our kids to know and follow Jesus Christ, these ten principles laid out by Paul in a letter to a church in Corinth almost 2,000 years ago will serve as guidelines. As we move towards Father’s day, examine your own life and your relationship with your kids. Which of these areas do you excel in? What are the areas where you can use a little more work when it comes to relating to your kids? How can you improve in those areas? Make a list and take it to God in prayer. He is the ultimate father, and his desire is that you would be a good father as well. Happy Father’s Day!
In addition to writing for Ministry-to-Children.com, I also have my own little blog. For more articles like this, and articles on children’s ministry, please check out Dad in the Middle and let me know what you think.