Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“Parenting Never Ends”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

There’s a mistaken, but sadly quite common idea about parenting, that parents play a vital role guiding children and building them up into healthy, mature, and responsible adults, until they leave the house.  This last bit is the trouble.  We hear it from the parents themselves during the troublesome teen years, when Dad is likely to angrily spout something like, “as long as you live under my roof, you’ll obey my rules!”  The implication is that, once you leave home and earn your own living, you won’t have to obey Dad anymore.  It may even be given biblical support.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Ge 2.24).  Buried within the point  about marriage, we can see the presumption that the man will have grown up in his parents’ home, and that he ought to one day leave it and make his own way.  Additionally, “we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them” (He 12.9).  This is put in the past tense, as if the relationship between fathers and their adult children in the audience no longer involves discipline.

So far, this is all fine.  The relationship does change, when children become adults.  But it’s not a complete reversal of what it used to be, nor does the change occur like the flip of a light switch.  In fact, this relationship never remains static for long—parents have to carry around their infants, and the mothers even nurse them, but no one expects this to continue until the child reaches adulthood! 

Children are supposed to grow—in stature, in virtue, in knowledge, in understanding, in responsibility, and many other qualities.  In each new phase, the parents must change the way they interact with their children, in order to effectively provide what their children now need, which is different from what they needed months or years prior.

So, does this continual growth and change mean that parents’ influence over their children should be cut off, when they grow up?  Far from it!  Isaac was forty years old, when his father arranged his marriage (Ge 25.20, 24.2-4).  God’s grievance against the high priest and judge Eli had little to do with Eli’s own behavior, and much to do with his sons’—who were already serving as priests (1Sa 1.3).  Their age is unknown, but given that one of their offenses was that “they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (1Sa 2.22), it’s safe to say they had reached sexual maturity.  Why was God upset with Eli?  Because “he did not restrain them” (3.13).  Although they were grown men, and Eli was “very old” (2.22), unable to physically overpower his sons, God held him to account for failing to put a stop to their behavior.

Jesus teaches us about this, too.  He accused the Pharisees:

“For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’” (Matthew 15.4-6)

He didn’t mean children living at home; rather, he meant grown children whose parents need their help, but don’t get it.  That shouldn’t happen!  In contrast, consider the example of Jesus himself, when his mother asked him to intervene in an embarrassing situation for the hosts of a wedding.  Never mind that he was “about thirty years of age” at the time (Lk 3.23)—he’s the Lord of all creation!  Even after he told her, “My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2.4), she knew he would do what she asked, telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v5).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that parents get to boss around their adult children forever; as noted earlier, the relationship is supposed to change.  But grown children should still honor their parents, seek their counsel, and work to repay their many years of love and sacrifice.  Parenting doesn’t end, when the child grows up.  Parenting is forever.

This is important as we seek to live after the pattern God has designed; but it’s even more important for spiritual reasons—it teaches us what to expect of spiritual parentage.  Paul told the Christians at Corinth,

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? (1 Corinthians 4.15-21)

Consider the tone in which Paul addresses his spiritual children.  Even though they were mature enough for their father to leave them unattended for a time, he maintained his position of authority over them, and spoke to them in harsh terms, with the ability to back them up.  We’ve established that parents are owed love and respect even by their grown children, and that extends to the spiritual realm, as well.  But even here, it’s just a tool to point us upward, to our heavenly Father.  No matter how long we live; no matter how much we accomplish, no matter how badly we want to be out from under his watchful eye, we will always owe him honor.

For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (Hebrews 12.10)

Jeremy Nettles