When it comes to parenting, you have often heard me say that our parental responsibility does not consist in getting young people to grit their teeth and conform to the standard. The task before us is to bring up our children in such a way as to love the standard. This is not possible to do with externally driven rules. It is a function of loyalty, and loyalty is based on love and relationship. We should consider what this looks like.
“My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be a chaplet of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck” (Prov. 1:8-9).
“My son, forget not my law; But let thy heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and years of life, and peace, will they add to thee. Let not kindness and truth forsake thee: Bind them about thy neck; Write them upon the tablet of thy heart: So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:1-4).
“My son, let them not depart from thine eyes; Keep sound wisdom and discretion: So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck” (Prov. 3:21-22).
“My son, keep the commandment of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thy heart; Tie them about thy neck. When thou walkest, it shall lead thee; When thou sleepest, it shall watch over thee; And when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee” (Prov. 6:20-22).
Summary of the Texts
In the texts quoted, there is a great deal of material—more than I am able to address today. What I would like to do is draw out one basic theme. First, the instruction of your father and the law of your mother should be treated as a garland of grace for the head, and as an ornamental chain around the neck (Prov. 1:9). Second, a young person should take care to bind kindness and truth around his neck, and he does this by not forgetting his father’s law, and by cultivating a heart that keeps his commandments (Prov. 3:3). The result is a blessed life. Third, sound wisdom and discretion is life to the soul, and grace around the neck (Prov. 3: 22). And last, take up the commandments of your father, and do not abandon the law of your mother. Tie them onto your heart, and hang them around your neck. These are not a good luck charm, but Solomon almost speaks of them as though they were. But this is blessing, not luck. This is the triune God of all grace, and not some rabbit’s foot.
Obedience and Glory
Obedience to parents is therefore a young person’s glory. What do you do with what your parents have asked? You do not trudge off reluctantly, muttering to yourself. No, the standard set forth in Scripture is to take what you have been asked to do and hang it around your neck like you would do with an Olympic gold medal that you had just won. If an athlete comes in first in the Olympics, he does not stuff the medal into his gym bag and slouch off halfway through the national anthem, No . . . what do you do with your glory?
A High Standard for All
Now this is the point where many parents are elbowing each other, and praying that their little pill of an adolescent is listening. This is the point where some are doing all they can to refrain from looking down their row to see if somebody is paying attention. But this is not a life of ease for parents, and the glory of raw obedience for teenagers, an obedience that drops mysteriously out of the sky. It does not work this way. Obedience, the kind described here, arises from personal loyalty, and this loyalty arises from love. Where does love come from? As always, God models it for us. What He asks us to do, He shows us how to do. And we love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). And if we want our young people to love us, with grace around the neck, then we must show them how it is worn.
Raise the Standard by Lowering It
If you cannot get the kids to love the standard, then lower the standard. I am not talking about God’s commandments, which you have no authority to lower, but rather addressing the questions that surround your house rules. Lower the standard to the point where everyone in the family can pitch in together. This is not simply “lowering standards,” and “why is a preacher telling us to do that?” It is actually raising the parental standard, which is the real reason we don’t like it. Parents must embrace the task of communicating, in a contagious way, love for the standard.
Now some parents might protest that this is impossible. But what does this example teach the young people in the home? It teaches them that nobody around here has to do “impossible” things, and since the requirement to make your bed, or to comb your hair, or to stop texting so much, are all clearly impossible, then they don’t have to be done. If you want your children to be obedient, then show them how.
Apart from a context of love and loyalty, parental discipline is just clobbering a kid. And since clobbering a kid is not what God said to do, the child is learning the fundamental lesson that in this house, we don’t have to do what God says to do. Instead, we learn to be sneaky enough to not get clobbered.
All Together Now
Each member of the family is supposed to understand that the whole family is a unit. All of you are on the same team. If you have drifted into an adversarial set of roles, then the parents have to do something to stop the game, change the rules, do something that works. Let us suppose the whole family is flunking high school calculus. Wouldn’t it be far better to all go back to sixth grade and pass that grade together?
The standard set in the passages from Proverbs is not an impossible standard. That was not written for angels in Heaven. It was written for us. These things are set before us now.