Series: Parenthood Category: Core Seminars, Children, Manhood & Womanhood, Marriage, Parenting
Have you ever heard it said that kids don’t come with an instruction manual? Actually, they do! The Bible has a songbook in the middle of it (Psalms); and right after the songbook, it has a lengthy book full of instructions a set of God-given, time-tested lessons that all kids need to hear. That book is Proverbs.
In a chapter from his excellent book, Successful Christian Parenting (“SCP”), on which we’re going to rely extensively this morning, John MacArthur writes that Proverbs is a “fitting textbook for parents. It is an inspired book of wisdom from the wisest father who ever lived, a vital compendium of the sort of practical wisdom all parents need to pass on to their children.” SCP, p. 70. It’s also a fitting textbook for adults, because we adults need to hear these lessons, too. Proverbs says it is for “giving . . . knowledge and discretion to the young,” but that the wise can “listen and add to their learning,” and even the discerning can “get guidance.” Prov. 1:4-6. In short, Proverbs is especially for parents and children, but ultimately is for all of us.
Before turning to the instructions in Proverbs, though, we should note some basic principles for understanding them. Proverbs are truisms, not inviolable promises. As Mark has said, they are always true ultimately; they are normally true now.
We should also understand that Proverbs should not only be verbally repeated; they should be lived out. Parenting is practical. “A wise man fears and departs from evil.” Prov. 14:16 (emphasis added). “He who heeds counsel is wise.” Prov. 12:15 (emphasis added). In other words, in dealing with Proverbs we must understand that wisdom involves how we live; “what is done is as vital to true wisdom as what is said.” SCP, p. 74 .
That said, we do need to speak to our children. This was the theme of Matt Schmucker’s lecture several weeks ago on “our words to [our kids’] hearts.” Proverbs is a powerful demonstration that words matter. We want to beg God for the spirit of the writer when he says:
My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body. Prov. 4:20-22.
We want to tenderly admonish our children to listen to our words, to see the value in them. There are scores of Proverbs on this: “My son [or daughter] . . . accept my words and store up my commands within you (Prov. 2:1); “My son [my daughter], do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart” (Prov. 3:1), and so many more. SCP, p. 70 (cf. 4:1; 4:10; 4:20; 5:1; 6:20; 7:1). We want our children to see that their primary goal in life is pursuing wisdom, and that much of that wisdom can and will come from us! SCP, p. 75. The world encourages us to teach our kids to pursue many things – but “wisdom” doesn’t even make the top 100. Even Christian books on parenting can downplay or ignore the value of wisdom. But instruction, understanding, discretion – this is what we want our children to treasure, because in finding wisdom they find Christ, who is the very wisdom of God! SCP, 76-77 (citing Prov. 8:22-30; Col. 2:3)
So here are ten principles of wisdom, identified by John McArthur and amply confirmed throughout Proverbs, that we want to live out and speak to our children—wisdom they should prize, treasure, and seek after with all their hearts.
1. We must teach our children to fear their God.
Proverbs starts with this declaration: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Prov. 1:7; Prov. 9:10. What is fear of the LORD? It is reverence – “sacred awe of God’s utter holiness”; and (b) fear of God’s displeasure – “holy, healthy sense of terror and apprehension,” in light of God’s “right to chasten . . . punish . . . and . . . judge.” SCP, p. 78. So we want to lay out for our children that the fear of God is the key to wisdom (Pr. 1:7, 9:10); it is the key to life (Pr. 10:27, 14:27; 19:23; 14:26); and so it is better than wealth (Pr. 15:16).
John MacArthur writes: “You have not satisfied the responsibilities of parenthood when you have made your children submit to you. . . . My goal as a father was not merely to have my children being chastened by their father. I wanted them to fear being chastened by their God.” SCP, p. 79. Brothers and sisters, this is right on. Pray that your children would fear God—reverence Him and fear His displeasure!
Tedd Tripp tells how his parents had taught their kids that disobedience to parents is dangerous, because God says that does not promise disobedient kids that it will go well with you and you’ll live long on the earth. Tedd and some other boys were getting ready to climb a fence to play baseball in an area they’d been told not to play by their parents, and Tedd’s little brother said, “You don’t want to live long do you?” Another kid said, “what will happen, will your dad kill you?” His little brother had internalized the fear of the LORD!
Teach your kids, or those under your care, this fear of the LORD. Explain to them the safety for those who obey (the “circle of safety”). Speak in sober tones about disobedience. Let them feel the gravity in your voice. Let them see that you are a person under authority – apologize when you sin; point out to them that, if you don’t discipline them, He will discipline you for disobedience. Never let them think that everything is taken care of once you’ve disciplined them. Of course, in one sense it is – but if they’ve disobeyed you, they’ve also sinned against God, who tells them to obey their parents, and so they need to be reconciled to Him. And then present to them the Gospel!
2. We must teach our children to guard their minds.
Solomon commands his son to “guard your heart with all diligence…” (Prov. 4:23), and uses the heart as a synonym for the mind. Prov. 23:7 (“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”). A basic implication of this is that we must help children, who are often gullible and ready to believe and even get wrapped up in anything, learn to guard their minds.
This is a massive job. Network television much less cable gives Satan a free shot at your kids. You don’t know what’s going to be said or done, so you’re left to react. Several Justices of the Supreme Court have recognized this, noting that broadcast media functions like an “intruder” in our homes. “To say that one may avoid further offense by turning off the radio when he hears indecent language is like saying that the remedy for an assault is to run away after the first blow.”
Proverbs forces us to ask: Are we willing to give Satan a free shot at our children’s minds? The average American child watches 25 hours of television a week – more than three hours per day. Oh brothers and sisters, how can this be anything but delegating the job of parenting to entertainment executives and advertisers? And are they going to guard our kids’ hearts while searching for their wallet or purse? I don’t think so. Let’s take care what they see and hear. I’m not setting out bright lines for what can and can’t be done—only urging you to be aware of the dangers and work to train your children to guard their minds. And I do mean work. X-boxes, PlayStations, Wiis, cell phones and text messaging, and who-knows-what’s-next all enable children to live in their own worlds, where we are not teaching them to their minds. Psalm 101:3: “I will set no unclean thing before my eyes.”
[My wife and I are wrestling with this right now with [our son]. He got a Nintendo hand-held system from his grandmother and loves it – he plays a single game, “Lego Star Wars,” as much as he’s allowed – 30 minutes a day. But we’ve noticed that it’s not like Pac Man that we used to play. It’s immersing, and in its own humble Lego way, more violent. We’re praying about this and talking with him.]
In making these kinds of decisions, John MacArthur urges us to understand the difference between our kids being inexperienced in evil and naïve about it. We want our children to be entirely inexperienced in evil; we do not want them to be at all naïve about it. “The naive are the easiest targets for the seductive wiles of temptation,” SCP, p. 36, so we want to protect and prepare them. “Our task is to teach them discernment, not raise them to be prudes.” SCP, p. 37. “It may well be more profitable to watch ‘Star Wars’ with your kids and teach them how to identify and refute its erroneous New Age philosophies,” MacArthur writes, “rather than trying to keep your children spiritually quarantined, completely shut off from such influences.” SCP, p. 39. [So maybe we need to play Lego Star Wars with our son!]
Let’s teach our kids to guard their hearts and cultivate wholesome thoughts: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things (Phil. 4:8).”
3. We must teach our children to obey their parents
We’ve covered this in past lectures. Deepak has explained that establishing authority is critical for children to understand God and His authority. Tedd Tripp has encouraged us to set a single, overarching goal for children ages 1-5 – teaching them to be people under authority. And Matt Schmucker did an excellent lecture last week on corporal punishment as to be undertaken with great caution, but in the knowledge that it’s biblically commanded for children. We are setting before them the way of life (Prov. 4:1-4 (“Keep my commands, and live”); Prov. 6:20-23 (“Reproofs of instruction are the way of life.”)), and teaching them to avoid the path of death (Prov. 30:17 (“The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out and the young eagles will eat it.”); Prov. 13:24 (“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”)). Let’s teach our children to obey that they may live!
4. We must teach our children to select their companions
Proverbs starts with this negative warning: My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” Prov. 1:11-18. Later, it says that, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” Prov. 13:20; cf. I Cor. 15:33 (“Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’”). We want to train our children that their choice of friends is not a matter of indifference to God. How their friends think, and ideas their friends have that they never would have had, can wield powerful influence over them—and as we’ve just seen, God wants them to guard their hearts and minds.
[I saw this in a youth group meeting in high school. The leaders introduced their teaching on physical intimacy while dating with a survey of peoples’ thoughts on what was an appropriate level intimacy for dating high-schoolers. (The leaders meant well, but can you imagine a more biased group to take a survey from!?) I was powerfully impressed by the liberty my friends thought they had. In fact, after that misguided survey, I put more stock in their view of what was permissible than what the youth group leaders’ taught.]
Positively, we want our kids that “he who walks with the wise grows wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.” Prov. 13:25. This does not mean our kids can’t be friends with children from non-Christian homes – to the contrary! The question is how foolish are these friends and do our kids know it – or are they being influenced by them, rather than the other way around. At the same time, we want our kids to cultivate a desire to be friends with wise children. Ask your kids, Who are your heroes? Who do you want to be like? Can you think of some friends who seem wise? Some kids who seem unwise?
5. We must teach our children to control their lusts
Here is a major warning for our children today. Paul wrote Timothy, “[f]lee . . . youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” II Tim. 2:22. We need to remember that all children develop powerful lusts that can lead them to tragedy unless controlled. SCP, 91.
Scripture is clear about the dangers, saying that wisdom will “delivery you from the immoral woman . . . who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; None who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life.” Prov. 2:16-19. In other words, “fornication can literally be fatal.” SCP, 91. The writer says the same thing in 5:3-5: “The lips of an immoral woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of hell.”
Go over the first chapters of Proverbs, and see how many times these warnings are repeated. Think of the lifelong reproach brought on by adultery; think of the lives destroyed by lack of sexual self-control. We need to warn our children in the strongest terms to flee this!
For the boys, we want to impress on them the eternal danger of such women. “Now therefore, listen to me my children; pay attention to the words of my mouth. Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death.” Prov. 7:24-27. Her paths are everywhere today—at times, right through our homes—so I am convinced this is one of the primary jobs of parents of boys. Let’s be vigilant. God will give us grace!
For the girls, we want to impress on them not to be such women. We need to recognize that just as magnetically as our culture draws our sons to sexual sin, it draws our daughters to be seductresses. There is a power that girls naturally want to assert over men with their looks. Madonna has said: “I’ve been provoking people since I was a little girl. I’ve always wanted to be alluring. . . . It’s a great feeling to be powerful. I’ve been striving for it all my life.” She calls herself “Madonna,” but does this sound something like someone we meet in the book of Proverbs? “She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares . . . she lurks . . . with a brazen face . . . many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.” Prov. 7:11-12; 21.
We want to teach our girls that this lust for power – to hold sway over men – is sinful and wrong, a form of self-worship, not loving to boys, and rebellion against God’s design. We want to train them to be noble women, an asset to their husbands and their churches (Prov. 31), like the sisters present here today.
6. We must teach our children to enjoy their spouses
Positively, we want to teach our children to enjoy their spouses, including sexually. Prov. 5:15, 18-20. Seriously? Yes, seriously. “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.” Prov. 5:15, 18-19. Brothers and sisters, at the proper time, teach your children forthrightly about the joys of sex in a faithful marriage. The temptation to be squeamish on this topic is powerful, but look at this example in Scripture – look how explicit the father is. Dads, moms, have these Scripturally prescribed conversations in the right place and the right time with your children. Don’t let the culture present the only favorable view of sex.
Also, teach your children to enjoy their spouses by selecting well. For boys, this means not picking someone who is so quarrelsome that you want to get away from the home (Prov. 19:13; Prov. 21:9; 21:19; 25:24; 27:15), but instead a noble, industrious woman that makes the members of her home overflow with praise for her (Prov. 31). For girls, this means not picking a fool for a husband; but instead picking a man who embodies this Top Ten list. Pray for these types of spouses with your children—truly asking God for such companions and teaching your children who to look for.
7. We must teach our children to watch their words
We need to teach our children that God cares greatly about our words, and so we need to watch what we say—to speak truthfully, building up, keeping our words pure, not corrupt. Proverbs 4:24 (“Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.”). Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This is a great verse for our kids to learn. Proverbs is full of these encouragements—
10:11 – “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life”
10:20 – “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver” 10:21 – “The lips of the righteous nourish many” 10:32 – “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting” 12:18 – “The tongue of the wise brings healing” 15:7 – “The lips of the wise spread knowledge” 16:23 – “A wise man’s . . . lips promote instruction” 20:15 – “Lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel”
John MacArthur has two further points that are so important that I’m going to quote him at a little more length:
[T]ake special notice of Proverbs 12:22: “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are his delight.” One lesson we always especially reinforced with our children was the importance of telling the truth. The pain attached to the consequences of lying was always double the pain of any other offense. . . . This is a vital lesson, because if a person can train his conscience to live with a lie, that person will be susceptible to any sin. If you can cover your sin with a lie, and if you condition your conscience to tolerate the lie, your conscience will in effect become useless to keep you from any sin.
And he concludes by noting Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Teach your children that it is often wiser not to talk. James wrote, “No man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). The mouths of fools are filled with strife, ruin, slander, belittlement, gossip, disgrace, lies, mischief, perversity. So teach your children that it is often best not to speak at all.
8. We must teach our children to pursue their work
And our kids need to meet the sluggard! This is someone who should make frequent appearances in our homes. Teach your children to spot him.
“How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” Prov. 6:9-11. “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a wise son; he who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.” Prov. 10:4-5. As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. Prov. 26:14. [Mark Dever writes that you can almost imagine this as a humorous riddle: “What moves without going anywhere? A door on its hinges. What else? A sluggard on his bed. ” This, Mark writes, is like “practicing for the grave.” MOT, 513. Mark has said that the sluggard fails to take advantage of present opportunities, inordinately loves sleep, and fails to ever finish what he starts. MOT, 513.]
Proverbs is full of such admonitions that we’ve all seen proved true in our own lives or in the lives of others. Perhaps tell your children about friends from your childhood who didn’t learn this lesson and are paying for it.
Positively, we should teach our children to be something like ants. Pr. 6:6-8 (“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”). Notice that (1) the ant gets the job done without a boss pushing him; and (2) knows how to plan ahead. We need to teach our kids to work without us seeing them, for their own future good.
A word of advice – in my limited experience, this teaching is especially important for boys. It seems that God has made women to be helpers, which means its somewhat more temperamentally normal for them to . . . help. At least in our home, Curtis seems more willing than his sisters (even the two-year-olds) to take the attitude, “I’ll let you help me with that.” This is wrong! Shelly Pelletier said that one evening she told Eric and Caleb, who were working in the yard, that they could come in for dinner. Eric said, “No, we’re in the middle of this project and we’re going to go ahead and finish it now. Boys need to learn to work.” I’m not recommending skipping family dinners routinely, but Proverbs is clear that boys (and girls) need to learn to work.
Teach your children to recognize the sluggard, and not to be him (or her)!
9. We must teach our children to manage their money
Having taught our children to work, they must also be taught to manage their earnings. The very first principle of money management is that it is all God’s money, and we are merely stewarding it for Him. This means that we want to teach our children to be generous with their money for God’s glory, which is the path to great blessing! Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “[h]onor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Prov. 11:24-26; see also 19:17, 22:9.
We also want to teach our kids about the danger posed by a greedy spirit. “A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live.” Prov. 15:27. This means, among other things, to be careful about business deals. Putting up security for others, signing contracts – this can entrap us and ensnare us. Prov. 6:1-5. Teach your kids to be careful about the deals they get themselves into.
And we want to teach our children of the limits of wealth: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” Prov. 11:28. Riches are unreliable, so Proverbs warns: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” Prov. 23:5. Oh how kids in our prosperous American culture need to learn that money is not ultimate! Teach your children the “better a little” passages:
--Proverbs 15:16 Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. --Proverbs 16:8 Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice. Psalm 37:16 Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; Our kids need to know that money does not trump all! It can be dangerous; the love of it is a root of all kinds of evil; and if having it creates turmoil, injustice, and wickedness, it’s better to have a little.
10. We must teach our children to love their neighbors
Proverbs teaches us to love our neighbors, and our kids need to learn this. “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’—when you now have it with you.” Prov. 3:27-28. Indeed, Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies is found in Proverbs, too: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” Prov. 25:21-22.
Notice, says John MacArthur, that the first and last of this “Top Ten” list summarize the law and the prophets – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Everything in between the first and last on this list “amplifies those principles. Teach these principles to your kids and you will raise your children to be wise.” SCP, 103.
God has given us a wonderful resource in Proverbs – not only identifying critical topics for us to address with our children, but telling us how to address those topics. These are lessons our kids need to learn. This is our great privilege and responsibility as parents, and as any other kind of caregiver to children. I close with this summary from John MacArthur:
Parents, if you fail to teach your children to fear God, the devil will teach them to hate God. If you fail to teach them to guard their minds, the devil will teach them to have a corrupt mind. If you fail to teach them to obey their parents, the devil will teach them to rebel and break their parents’ hearts. If you fail to teach them to select carefully their companions, the devil will choose their companions for them. If you fail to teach them to control their lusts, the devil will teach them how to fulfill their lusts. If fail to teach them to enjoy their own spouses, the devil will teach them to destroy their marriages. If you fail to teach them to watch their words, the devil will fill their mouths with filth. If you fail to teach them to pursue their work, the devil will make their laziness a tool of hell. If you fail to teach them to manage their money, the devil will teach them to squander it on riotous living. And if you fail to teach them to love their neighbors, the devil will teach them to love only themselves and the next. We have a great responsibility to this generation and the next.
SCP 103-04. Amen. Praise God he promises grace to live up to this high calling!