Have I mentioned one of the highlights of my week is reading the Book of Concord? I’m sure I have. There is a group of folks here in Southern California I meet with weekly on Tuesday afternoons to read the Book of Concord. We are working our way through the Large Catechism and we just read the beginning of the 4th commandment. Honor your Father and your Mother.
There are a few thoughts that really stuck to me concerning parenting. The first is, “We must, therefore, impress this truth upon the young that they should think of their parents as standing in God’s place.” Whoa. That is a pretty big statement. I’ve thought of this some before, especially in connection with infants. An infant is utterly helpless without parents.
This is an appropriate picture. When Luther, in the 1st commandment, explains, “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress,” the picture becomes more clear what this means when we say parents stand in God’s place. For that infant, everything that is good comes from parents. That relationship is life giving and comforting. There is no better place of refuge for that child than in his or her parent’s arms.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. Not all fathers or mothers are perfect stand-ins for God. In fact, there is not one father or mother who can do this perfectly. Yet, God chooses these imperfect and sinful men and women to fulfill this task. Another remarkable thing is that even though we are imperfect parents, there is grace for even this.
Another connection I made as I was reading this was to what Luther said in the 2nd commandment. There, he admonishes parents to teach children, “in a childlike and playful way.” This is because this type of instruction, “spreads its roots in the heart so that children fear God.
Oftentimes, it is easy to revert to using the rod of discipline to correct our children. Sometimes, that rod is raising your voice, timeouts, loss of privileges, and that sort. For some, it is a swat on the hand or the behind. Whatever it is, this is usually our default reaction in our broken world.
I’m not going to tell you what is right and wrong here, but I do want to point one thing out. The rod of discipline is necessary. That said, we must keep in mind what our primary goal is in raising our children. Is it behavior modification? Or, is it an active faith?
Behavior modification is a part of what we do as parents. “No, do not hit your sister.” This is important. However, our primary goal in raising our children as Christians ought to be that they grow to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That means that they believe in God and expect all good things from him, including forgiveness of sins and cleansing of unrighteousness through Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther’s suggestion is that instead of being primarily concerned with behavior modification, we need to be concerned with the heart. To affect the heart, the rod will not do. Luther points out “For children who must be forced with rods and blows will not develop into a good generation. At best they will remain godly under such treatment only as long as the rod is upon their backs.”
This isn’t just true for children. It is true for all ages. We can preach the law and apply the law to unrepentant sinners, but the law will not save them. The law will not change them. Only the Gospel, the Good News that our Lord came down to us and gave himself for us can change a heart. The Good News that Jesus died for sinners is the only solution.
As ones who are standing in the stead of God for our children, what are some ways we can apply this principle to our lives? What does it look like in our homes?
May the Lord be with you as you endeavor to be faithful to his Word,