By Jim Bob Howard
From the Jan/Feb issue of Every Thought Captive magazine.
Psychobabblers tell us, in order to be better men--husbands, fathers, employees, friends, etc.-- we must embrace our "inner child," that that is the "real" us. We need, they say, to tap into, get in touch with, hug that innocent, immature, scared, just-wants-to-be-loved, idyllic picture of our childhood, as though what the world needs is more grown men acting like five-year-olds.
We spend so much time and energy worshipping youth that we ignore the Bible’s reaching that a righteous life produces a hoary head—a silver-haired sage that passes on his faith and wisdom to the next generation, that they would remember and know the Lord. Too many men with hoary heads have embraced their inner imbecile and have gone off traipsing about the globe, running out the clock, rather than showing themselves to be the patriarchal head of their generations. “Kids these days!” . . . have been trained by abdicating fathers these days.
We think we’re mature because we don’t get carded anymore and can grow facial hair. We think we’re responsible because we can manage a team of employees, we have mouths to feed and cars to maintain, and we have managed to land a job that pays the bills. But maturity isn’t age and responsibility isn’t a stack of bills. Maturity is knowing and trusting in the God who made you and growing in grace. Responsibility is fulfilling the mandate to take dominion over creation according to your gifts and abilities, sanctifying your wife, training up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, providing for their needs, spiritually and physically.
“Within your houses, I say, in some cases, you are bishops and kings; your wife, children, servants and family are your bishopric and charge. Of you it shall be required how carefully and diligently you have instructed them in God’s true knowledge, how you have studied to plant virtue in them, and [to] repress vice. And therefore I say, you must make them partakers in reading, exhorting, and in making common prayers, which I would in every house were used once a day at least” (John Knox).
Many is a man whose spiritual growth is stunted because he never takes a wife. Many is a man who never grows in grace because he shuns fatherhood. Until you’ve had to lead someone you can’t fire for insubordination, until you’ve trained someone whom you can’t incent with promotion, there are chapters and books of Scripture that will never make sense to you. Ephesians 5 will never go to your inner parts until you have a wife you must love as Christ loved the church, giving yourself for her, sanctifying her by bathing her with the Word, that you might present her to yourself as a glorious bride, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:25-27).
So, if you’re of marrying age but aren’t married, stop reading now and get a wife. See you in a couple of years; this article can wait . . . “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from God” (Proverbs 18:22).
So, you have a wife. Good! Any children yet? No? Go ahead then, this can wait a couple more years. God will teach you more through fatherhood than anything you’ll read from me. “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them” (Psalms 127:4-5a).
You have a wife and children? Great, Let’s proceed.
Children are a great source of training, correction and dying to self, all of which makes us more like Christ; as R.C. clarifies it, sanctification is a big word that means Jesus-ification. Some friends once told us, “with each child God gave us, He revealed some major character flaw in us that needed correcting. After a particular sin of my wife’s manifested itself in one of our children and she was called to discipline the child, she lamented about the event to a godly friend, the proud mother of eight. The understanding reply was ‘Yep, It’s you He’s after!’”
Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, tells us the qualifications for bishops or overseers. “[He must be] one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he care for the church of God?) not a novice” (I Timothy 3:4-6a). To rule your own house well and have children in submission requires self-sacrifice, because God tells us that “he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves his son disciplines him promptly.” You can’t spend much time on the pedestal of personal peace and affluence when part of your job is to not care whether you’re liked, and so you must spank this dear one, whom you love, for his own sanctification. You are not called to be his buddy, but his father—the one who trains him up in the way he should go, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
“Remember that, as you would not have all your instructions and counsels ineffectual, there must be government as well as instructions, which must be maintained with an even hand, and steady resolution, as a guard to the religion and morals of your family, and the support of its good order. Take heed that it will not be with any of you as it was with Eli of old, who reproved his children, but restrained them not; and that, by this means you do not bring the like curse on your families as he did on his” (Jonathan Edwards).
We don’t do our children any favors by being their “friend.” As Rev. Edwards points out, we are to establish boundaries, as well as give instructions. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy our children and have fun with them. But all the time, all the time, when we rise up, when we lie down, when we sit at the table and when we walk along the way, we are to be teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, leading them closer to God. At all times, even when we are playing, Dad is He Who Must Be Obeyed. At any point in the game, we must be ready to train them in proper responses, good sportsmanship, lovingkindness. Our example is the Garden, where God walked with Adam in the cool of the day. God talked with Adam and he with God. But it was Father to son, Creator to creature. He Who Must Be Obeyed to he who must obey.
Rather than embrace our inner child, we need to embrace our inner patriarch. We must be the sages, the heads of our families who lead by trusting in the God who made us and gave our families to us for our sanctification . . . and theirs.
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