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What the Bible says about Child Training
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 18:16-19

What He says encompasses far more than early childhood training from parents, but it is included within its scope. It is vital that the “twig” be bent in the correct direction before the age of accountability arrives so that the child is prepared to recognize and resist the pressures of life from Satan's system. Thus, Proverbs 22:6 admonishes us with sound counsel: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part One)

Exodus 20:12

Ephesians 6:2 states that the fifth commandment is the first commandment with promise. The second commandment contains a very general promise loosely tied to keeping all the commandments. The promise in the fifth commandment is not general but specifically tied to meeting a specific responsibility—honoring parents.

Notice that the commandment does not say, "Obey your father and your mother." This is because honoring not only includes obedience but also goes beyond it. Honoring suggests adding to, glorifying, embellishing, and decorating its object. Obedience can be given in a resentful manner, but honoring requires admiration, respect, even reverence. This quality must be within one's heart, and it is acquired and built upon through thoughtful consideration, even meditation, on the sacrifices and gifts that the parents give to the child.

Honoring is something that usually does not happen in the child until adulthood, when the child has his own experiences as a parent to draw upon to appreciate his parent's loving labors. This fact shows us that it is not too late to grow in honoring our parents, and that God is aware, noticing and rewarding with the blessing of long life. Obedience to parents as a child gets one started in the right direction and produces its own rewards.

Yet, the honoring of parents greatly increases the appreciation for them. The real rewards lie in the practice of honoring itself, rewards that affect our place in the Kingdom of God because we have transferred giving honor to our physical parents to giving spiritual and moral honor to God, our spiritual Parent.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 declares this commandment's seriousness to us:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Notice that child-training is directly linked with the first and great commandment. The fifth commandment is aimed directly at parental responsibility. If children grow up not honoring God, the blame largely falls on the parents' shoulders. God intends this vital child-training responsibility to lead children to honoring Him.

That is its goal. It requires consistent and devoted attention. It cannot be accomplished by absent parents. If the parents do not know God, or if their knowledge of Him is shallow, and they are not practicing what they do know, what will they pass on to their children? Worldliness. Both parents must be dedicated and deeply involved in honoring God in their own lives, if their children are going to be prepared to perform the much more rewarding practice of honoring God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment

Leviticus 19:2-4

These introductory verses provide the starting point for more specific commands. It is as though God is saying, "This is the foundation of good family and community relationships. Aim to be holy, to be different from other nations, to be clean in My eyes through your conduct of obeying My laws. This will separate you."

Note an interesting feature. God draws attention to the fifth, the fourth, and to the first and second commandments as His keys to accomplishing the activation and growth of holiness, first in a family setting and then its spread into the community. This indicates that in God's eyes—in terms of holiness and good family and community relationships—keeping these commands are the major guides and regulators, actually necessities, toward producing family and community success. They provide a foundation for regulating social relationships within both family and community.

Of special interest is the order God sets them in. Both honoring parents—and most specifically the mother, as she is mentioned first—and Sabbath-keeping are mentioned before idolatry. In terms of good family relationships, this is the order the child is introduced to them. In an infant or young child's life, mother is primary. Do not forget, God gives all of this instruction with one common goal in mind: to produce holiness and good family relationships.

Why does God say, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy"? It is His way of pointing out to us, His converted children, that He Himself is the Model, the Standard, we are to follow in our child-training practices. As His children, He is the One we are to imitate.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment

Leviticus 21:15-17

How important to God's purpose are the parents in this mix? God records in Exodus 21:15, 17, "And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. . . . And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." To modern child psychologists, these are shocking statements. At the very least, they ought to give us pause to realize the seriousness of being constantly concerned about our child-training responsibilities!

These verses do not in any way imply a child is to be beaten into submission. They do mean that it is a tremendously serious responsibility to produce a godly child who glorifies God. Our responsibility is to follow God's patterns in child-training. He is patient and generous with His affections and mercies, yet He also gives correction in due season and in right measure.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 adds:

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city. "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard." Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.

Here, the laws given in Exodus 21 are expanded on as the Israelites are about to enter the Land of Promise. If a child were unmanageable and stubbornly disobedient, the judges had a responsibility to back up the parents. However, the right to kill was not given to the parents. This passage indicates a process of evaluation by people not directly, and thus less emotionally, involved. Interestingly, the addictions in the child are directly named. One is a drug addiction, a major problem in our time.

Does it offend us that God's standard is so stern? Do we pass it off as being of little consequence or significance? We should perhaps rethink this. Consider what poor child-training is causing in Britain and America! Does not God prophesy against "the drunkards of Ephraim" (Isaiah 28:1, 3)?

God adds in Deuteronomy 27:16, "Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt." Ephraim (Israel) is under divine punishment, cursed, because parenting and parents are considered to be so unimportant. Why is God so concerned? Notice this comment concerning Exodus 21:12-17 in the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament:

Maltreatment of a father and mother through striking (v. 15), man-stealing (v. 16), and cursing parents (v. 17, cf. Lev 20:9), were all to be placed on a par with murder, and punished in the same way. By the "smiting" (hikaah) of parents we are not to understand smiting to death, for in that case waameet would be added as in v. 12, but any kind of maltreatment. The murder of parents is not mentioned at all, as not likely to occur and hardly conceivable. The cursing (qaleel as in Gen 12:3) of parents is placed on a par with smiting, because it proceeds from the same disposition; and both were to be punished with death, because the majesty of God was violated in the persons of the parents (cf. Ex 20:12). (Vol. 1, p. 133.)

Therein lies a major reason for keeping this commandment. The relationship God intends within the family is an exact type of the Christian's spiritual relationship with God the Father and the church as mother. In the eyes of God and in the eyes of a small child, a parent stands in the place of God Himself. In the physical sense, the parents are the child's creator, provider, lawgiver, teacher, and protector. A child's response to this relationship will in large measure determine his later response to broader relationships in society and beyond that to God Himself.

By direct implication, then, if as parents we represent God, it becomes our obligation to live lives worthy of honor to Him. Ultimately, the responsibility for keeping this commandment falls on the child. However, by carrying out their responsibilities, the parents clearly lay the foundation for the child keeping the commandment.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment

Ephesians 6:4

The English word "nurture" (KJV) or "training" (NKJV) indicates caring for and providing supportive instruction. The underlying Greek word more specifically involves educational feeding or instruction, as if in school or for the purpose of learning a discipline. The word thus covers verbal instruction, chastening, and the use of drills needed to produce Christian character. It does not at all indicate that any of these approaches is even harsh, let alone cruel. However, it suggests that parents follow an organized and consistent plan.

The term "admonition" or "instruction" (NIV) means a warning, drawing specific attention to verbal instruction. In summary, Paul touches on three areas vital to child-training so that children keep the fifth commandment properly. "Of the Lord" touches on the standard or quality one is to strive for. "Nurture" indicates what is physically done to and with the child in terms of consistent, regimented training, including discipline. "Admonition" draws attention to what is said and how it is said to the child.

Taken together, then, Paul clearly teaches that child-training is something that can neither be left to chance nor sloughed off with a careless, resigned attitude, as if it were merely a necessary evil. The parents' vision must be long-range. From parents applying right principles consistently will come the gradual development of understanding and wisdom in the children. These are precursors that help produce the promised long life and prosperity in the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3).

In I Thessalonians 2:7-8, Paul uses himself and his relationship with the Thessalonian congregation as an example:

But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

He says he treated them with the tender affection of a nursing mother, striving hard so that no one could honestly charge him with taking anything from them. They personally witnessed how gently and consistently he dealt with them as a father does his children by appealing and encouraging them to live their lives to glorify God in their conduct.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment

Ephesians 6:4

In Ephesians 6:4, Paul directly addresses fathers. Connecting it to Colossians 3:21 will give us a broader view of what Paul is addressing: "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." Mothers can also have this problem, but fathers are by nature far more likely to commit this child-training error. This verse is more clearly rendered, "Do not embitter or exasperate your children lest they become discouraged." The words "to anger," as in the King James Version, are not in the Greek text. The apostle is encouraging parents not to do things to their children like being overbearing, constantly finding fault, and nagging. The final phrase indicates, ". . . for fear that the child will become listless, moody, or sullen."

Paul appeals to parents to train their children thoughtfully, so that their children's characters and personalities are formed without self-esteem being destroyed. He allows for correction, but at the same time he urges patience with the children's inexperience. Correction should never be revenge. It must be given for the child's good but always within measure to the infraction.

His directive in Ephesians 6:4 is stronger; it could easily be translated, "Do not enrage your children to anger." Discouragement, growing from exasperation, tends to lead a person to give up. By contrast, enraging inclines a person to fight back stubbornly. Neither is good, but the anger is the worse of the two.

The words translated as "provoke" and "wrath" are exactly the same word in Greek. The verse can legitimately be rendered as, "Do not enrage your children to enragement." We might say, "Do not arouse your children to rage." Overall, Paul is teaching us not to promote an angry mood or disposition in our children. Doing so may boomerang on us because children will eventually reflect the disposition of the parents. Firmness in correction is fine, but men, especially, must be careful about their temperament when they give correction. Paul is talking about injustice, favoritism, over-correction, neglect, and physical cruelty in correction.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment


 




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