“Like father, like son,” is a common proverb I am finding out is truer every day as I look at who I am as a person, a husband, and father. Many of my habits, beliefs and character come directly from my dad and grandfather. I will admit that I sometimes cringe at this, because I have inherited some of my dad’s weirdest habits, along with the good stuff. Sorry youth, I always said I wouldn’t become like my dad, but I have, and as you get older, you will also look more and more like your mom or dad too! Yet with all the weird and good mixed together, my parents tried hard to be faithful to God’s call to them to make raising kids who love God their first priority. They wanted us all to be successful in all areas of life, but faith and character where their priorities, as for most Christian parents.
To all the parents and grandparents out there this morning, can you relate to this comment made by an anonymous pastor, “Sometimes we are so involved with simply living life day to day and week to week that we fail to keep the big picture in mind; that we parents are shaping a whole new generation.” Our passages from Proverbs and Ephesians this morning remind us again of what our first priority needs to be as parents: to raise them to know and love the Lord above all else in wisdom. In the Bible, wisdom is about learning to live well with God, each other, ourselves and creation. Wisdom is outward looking, living to bless others and the community. Wisdom usually leads to sacrificial living; parenting is all about sacrificial living, determining what is best for our children rather than focusing on what they want. Wisdom is about developing biblical character.
Our passage this morning from Proverbs connects together through verses 1 and 6. When you read scripture, to figure where a story or passage begins and ends, or to figure out the main theme, you look for repetition of words or ideas. These verses are a smaller section within a larger section that stretches from verses 1-16 and that main theme is training our children that character is better than gold and silver. Verse 1 begins with, “A good name is more desirable than great riches,” while verse 6 is more well-known to many of us, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” Wisdom literature says that if you live this way, if you walk this way, normally this is what will happen. This is why some of us as parents live with the heartbreak of children who have walked away from God, even though we raised them to know and love Jesus.
A good name comes from our parents, a gift we hand down to our children. Ecclesiastes 7:1 tells us that, “A good name is better than fine perfume.” Another way to translate it is, “A good reputation is more desirable than fine oil.” There is an echo forward here to the woman who arrives at a dinner Jesus is at and pours a jar of precious perfume over his feet and then washes his feet with her hair. Fine oils were used for anointing and special occasions, making them valuable and desirable, but our family name and reputation is even more important according to Solomon. The wisdom and character needed to have a good name is found in the next few verses. We’re called to value people because we are all created in the image of God, we’re not to judge a person by how much money they have. We just need to look at Jesus’ life to see how Jesus honoured many people that the wealthy and influential looked down on, hanging out with those on the fringes of society rather than with those in power. Wisdom gives us the ability to recognize danger and deal with it well, this is why Jesus calls us to follow him and calls himself ‘the way’ to show us how to live wisely. A humble heart is wiser than a proud heart. One of the things Jesus taught was to serve rather than be served.
When I hear the warning about snares and pitfalls, I hear the echo to Psalm 1, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.” Wicked often seems exciting and appealing and it never lives up to its promises, it always ends up taking from us emotionally, spiritually and even physically. This is why parents need to be aware of their children’s friends and activities so that they have those discussions on what wisdom looks like in their friendships.
This is why Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Talking about God needs to happen regularly as part of our normal daily lives. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses gets the grandparents involved too, telling us to pay attention to our own lives, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
It’s becoming more and more important that as parents, we teach our children wisdom around social media. It’s not only about safety, but also about character and a Christ-like presence on social media. How do we show our children and grandchildren how to be a positive presence that builds others up instead of tearing people down, that brings peace and hope rather than anger and rage, how to recognize wisdom and truth rather than the loudest rage that attracts the most clicks and likes? This means as parents we need to be aware of our presence online and how we respond. Kevin DeYoung writes, “Brothers and sisters, it’s OK to have an unarticulated thought. It’s OK to go about our lives in quiet worship and obedience. It’s OK to do your homework, read your Bible, raise your kids, and make your private thoughts prayers instead of posts.”
In Ephesians 6, Paul addresses the children, reminding them to obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first command with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth.” Parents are important, they’re a gift from God who love you, take care of you, put up with you when you’re crabby, they also are the ones who are going to invest in you more than anyone else ever will, they willing sacrifice themselves for you, even though you don’t often recognize it; this is why God calls us to honour our parents. Your parents work hard at modelling faith in Jesus to you, showing you in words and actions that Jesus is number 1 in their lives and you are probably a really high number 2. Parents teach us how to forgive, how to offer grace and mercy, while also holding us accountable for our actions and how to live life wisely.
God is our example of fatherhood and parenthood. He is both righteous and just, teaching us right from wrong and punishing us when we sin so that we learn what a healthy full life looks like in Jesus. That’s what parents do because they want the best for us. Following Jesus is about personal continual change, about character in action, about living life shaped by Jesus, it’s for our children’s sake, but also our own.
God guides us, teaches us what our lives should look like so that we can keep his name good; parents pass on to their children a good name to keep, as well as passing on Jesus’ name to them as we carry the name Jesus, the best name! God is merciful and gracious, teaching us the cost of forgiveness in sending Jesus, his son, to take our punishment on himself so that we can experience new life and reconciliation with God our father. That’s also what parents do, they want healthy close loving relationships with their children and are willing to sacrifice greatly to make that happen, just as God our father wants.
Parenting is the most important responsibility you will ever be given, but parents cannot raise their children alone, this is why at baptism, we promise as a church to help raise all our children to know the Lord, to follow Jesus and carry his good name and keep it good. We need the church to help parents raise their children in the Lord. So, whether you are married with children, married without children, or single, we all have the responsibility to raise our children in the Lord. This is an amazing witness to our communities when we join together to invest in our children as parents, and as a church family, to raise hope-filled children and young adults who know their call to live for Jesus.