Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will consider why it’s important for parents—both elders and all Christians—to lead their families in a God-honouring way.
We read in 1 Timothy 3:4–5, “[An elder] One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)”
Paul likewise tells Titus that elders should have children.
“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.” (Titus 1:5–6).
So, what does that mean and why is it so important?
Quite simply, it means that a man’s leadership within the home proves his ability to lead within the church. Conversely, an inability to lead within the home proves an inability to lead within the church. In this way, the home rather than the office or classroom is the testing and proving ground of a man’s leadership ability. Why? Managing the local church is more like managing a family than managing a business or state. A man may be a successful businessman, a capable public official, a brilliant office manager, or a top military leader but be a terrible church elder or father. Thus a man’s ability to oversee his household well is a prerequisite for overseeing God’s household.
But what, then, does it mean for a man to manage his household well? A leader of a well-ordered household should have submissive children. This does not mean perfect, but it does mean well-disciplined so that they do not blatantly and regularly disregard the instructions of their parents. The children should revere the father. He should be a loving and responsible spiritual leader in the home.
Again, if a man cannot tenderly lead and sacrificially love his own family, he must not be given the privilege and responsibility of leadership in the church. If he cannot excel at the one he will not excel at the other. Thus if a man has a family, any process of evaluating him as a candidate for eldership must involve a close look within his home. Patriarch Darryl warns of “men who could be too preoccupied with the affairs of the church and too little occupied with what’s going on under their own roof. One thinks of Eli’s hasty and mistaken rebuke of Hannah as she prayed, while simultaneously abdicating responsibility for his wayward boys (1 Samuel 1–2). An elder tends to affairs at home.”
And what about the big question of what it means for children to be believers? This is a tricky text that has been the subject of much discussion, but I find myself in agreement with Dr. Nathaniel Waterman’s skilful handling of the passage. He points out that the word translated as “believers,” as in “children [who] are believers,” can also be translated as “faithful.” This translation allows the text to nicely complement 1 Timothy 3:4 with its emphasis on control, obedience, and submission. He concludes, “What must not characterize the children of an elder is immorality and undisciplined rebelliousness if the children are still at home and under his authority.”
Now, what about Christian parents who are not elders? How do we honour the text even as we widen its application? Well, these people, too, must exhibit skill and godliness in their family relationships. They, too, must seek to be exemplary. Fathers must lovingly lead and teach their children, mothers must joyfully care for their children, exercising patient, kind authority over them.
Paul writes, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
Genesis 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
Psalm 78:4 We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
2 Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
In the Shema, God through Moses tells the Israelites, both men and women.
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)
Deuteronomy 4:9 Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;
Deuteronomy 11:19 And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Similarly, the Proverbs repeatedly portray the importance of disciplining your children.
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24
Proverbs 19:18 Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.
Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
Proverbs 23:13–14 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. 14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
Proverbs 29:15, 17 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. 17 Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.
A host of narrative passages display the danger of neglecting such as care and discipline. The author of Hebrews likewise emphasizes the importance of disciplining your children as an expression of your love for them.
He asks, “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:7).
Indeed, God “For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10
Hebrews 12:3–11 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. 4 Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. 5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Women specifically play a vital role in the family. Paul instructs Titus, “[Older women]
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” (Titus 2:3–5).
Again, Paul writes,
“I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” (1 Timothy 5:14).
From beginning to end the Bible places upon every parent the responsibility to teach and train children and in that way to exercise kind, caring, loving oversight of them.
So, how about you? I challenge you to reflect on these questions below to see how you can grow in your leadership at home:
- Do you look for ways to improve in the ways you teach and discipline your family?
- When your family is in public, are your children out of control, or do they generally follow your lead and respond to your correction?
- Can you speak to your children’s spiritual state?
- Do you know the condition of their souls?
- Do you pray for them in specific ways?
- Fathers, do you lead your family spiritually?
- Are, family devotions part of your routine?
- Mothers, do you teach and train your children?
- Do you pray with them?
- Do you lovingly discipline them?
Our heavenly Father is eager to help us earthly fathers (and, of course, mothers). Consider praying in these ways as you seek to humbly and boldly parent your family well:
- I pray that you would make me a faithful and patient leader in my home.
- I pray that you would help me show my children that I love them in both tough and tender ways.
- I pray that I would display the gospel in the way I love, lead, and care for my children.
- I pray that I would have a deeper understanding of what it means that God is my Father so I can imitate him in the way I care for my children.
Next week we will consider what it means for elders and all Christians to be mature and humble.