What Does the Bible Say About Parents Respecting Their Children?

August 22, 2023

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What does the Bible say about parents respecting their children? Listen as Elizabeth Urbanowicz looks to the Bible as a whole for principles on how parents should interact with and engage their children.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children that God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz and I'm thrilled that you've joined me for another episode today. Today's question says, "What does the Bible say about parents respecting their children?" Very interesting question.

Now, before we dive down deep into answering that question, I would ask for you to consider liking and subscribing to this podcast if you found the content beneficial to make sure that you never miss a future episode, and also ask that you would consider writing a review to help more people discover this content so that we can equip as many children as possible to understand the truth of the biblical worldview.

Now, as we think through this question of what does the Bible say about parents respecting their children, when we're thinking of a specific topic like this, we're often looking through the Bible for some kind of proof text where what we should be looking for is a biblical principle. Now, what I mean by proof text is I mean one verse that says specifically something about parents respecting their children. Now, there is not a specific Bible verse that says, parents respect your children. And so that's why we're not supposed to just look for one verse that happens to have that word in it and then say, ah, clearly this is what the Bible says about this. But we're supposed to look at the Bible as a whole and say, "okay, how does the Bible as a whole address this concept?" Especially because there is no Bible verse that says, parents respect your children.

However, there are clear biblical principles that we can apply to understanding how should we view and treat our children. So some very clear biblical principles that are given throughout Scripture is the fact that all humans are image bearers of God. The first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1 specifically verses 27, 26, 27 and 28, make this clear that humans are God's image bearers. That there are no qualifications to this, that anyone who is a human from the moment of conception to the moment of death, regardless of sex, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of ability or disability, regardless of location or any skillset, every single human is an image bearer of the holy God. So therefore, we can take this biblical principle and say, okay, our children bear the image of God, therefore we need to treat our children as image bearers with respect, with dignity, value and worth.

So this should inform our general attitude towards our children. Whether we wake up in the morning and we feel like they're the greatest thing in the entire world, or whether we wake up and just wish that we could take a week's vacation from being a parent, our general attitude toward them should be one as respecting them as image bearers of the holy God. So this is going to impact the way that we interact with them. We're not going to treat them as the center of the universe because they image God, they bear God's image, but they are not God. So we're not going to place them at the center of the universe. We're not going to let every single thing in our family or the life of our neighbors or our extended family revolve around our children because that would be idolatry because our children bear the image of God, but they are not God in the same way.

We are always going to treat them with dignity and respect no matter how we feel about them because they bear God's image. This impacts the way that we discipline them. Are we trying to humiliate them when we discipline them or are we trying to make them disciples of Jesus? Because if we are trying to humiliate them, we are not treating them as image bearers of the holy God, where if we are disciplining them out of our love for God and our desire for our children to one day, know, love, trust, and follow Jesus, then we are treating them as the image bearers that they are.

Also, this is going to impact the way that we speak about our children to others. I have heard some Christian parents talk very negatively about their children to others to say, "oh, they're such a pest," or even just joking in social situations. "Anyone want to take these guys home?" These are ways in which we should not be speaking about our children to others because they bear the image of God. Would we ever speak about Jesus in that way? No. We need to make sure that we are talking respectfully about our children.

Now, I mean, that doesn't mean that we never bring up disciplines or difficult or discipline situations with those within the body of Christ. If someone's asking us how we're doing, we say, oh, you know what? I'm really struggling with my kids right now. The purpose of that is not to talk negatively about our kids, but to be honest about where we are and share a struggle with a brother or a sister in Christ to ask them to hold us accountable, to ask them to pray for us, maybe even to ask them to come over and help us out in the situation that we're facing.

Another thing that we have to think about nowadays is what we choose to post about our children on social media that we need to understand that our children bear the image of God. So should we be posting about our children every day? Should there be tons of pictures of our children on the internet? Should everyone in our sphere of influence know every single thing that's going on in our child's life? Are we going to post something dumb that they did just to get a laugh and get a lot of likes? Or are we going to post about them every day so that every single person knows every single thing that's going on in their lives? Now, I'm not saying that this means parents can never post about children on social media, but just that we need to be really careful in thinking through what are we posting about our children? Are we treating them as image bearers as we are posting this?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, are we always posting an unrealistic picture of our children to make them look perfect and to make them again the center of the universe, which they are not? We need to be asking ourselves these questions as we're considering. What are we posting on social media? So that's the first biblical principle that our children bear the image of the holy God. Another biblical principle is that our children are fallen image bearers. Genesis three talks about the fall of mankind, the fall of our first father, Adam and Romans three makes clear that that fall has impacted us all. And then later on in Romans, it talks about Jesus being the second Adam that we're waiting for this rescuer. So humans, all of us are fallen and that includes our children.

So therefore, we should understand that our children will not inherently know what is best for them and will not inherently know how to live rightly in every situation. So while we need to treat them as image bearers, we also need to correct them. We also need to offer correction when correction is needed. We need to guide them when guidance is needed. I think a lot of times we as parents just think our children are going to know how to live rightly in different situations without training them how to do so. Our children aren't going to know just automatically know how do we live rightly when we go to visit grandma and grandpa that we actually have to cover these things with our children? Say, "okay, we're going to go and visit grandma and grandpa tomorrow. What are some things that we need to do to make sure that we are loving grandma and grandpa and treating them like image bearers of God?" And talk about things like we're not going to go running through their house yelling and screaming. We're not going to pull things off the shelf without permission. We're not going to whine. We're not going to throw a temper tantrum and then practice these things, especially if you're working with little ones practice, pretend that you are going to grandma and grandpa's and practice that.

When I was a teacher, when I taught third grade, I knew that many of the situations I was getting my students involved in, they would not be prepared to know how to live rightly in those situations. So before we went to an orchestra concert or before we went to a museum or before we went to the zoo, what we'd do is we'd actually sit down and talk through, "okay, how do we live rightly in this situation? How do we do things that are appropriate in this situation?"

I taught just outside of the city of Wheaton, and so every year we would go to see Wheaton College's orchestra in the fall. And so I would talk through with them what to expect at the orchestra concert, and then we would talk about appropriate ways to respond after a song had been played. This might seem silly, but I even taught them how to clap appropriately that you're not going to clap with your hands above your head like you would at a football game. You're not going to stand up and shout. You're not going to make noises with your mouth, but we would practice, how do you clap appropriately at the end of an orchestra song? So we need to have this in our mind that this is because our children are fallen because they don't have comprehensive knowledge, because they're going to be tempted to do the wrong thing and many times just not even know what the right thing is to do.

We need to prepare them with proper guidance in all the situations that your children are going to get into. And then also they are going to need discipline. They naturally are fallen just as we are. So they are going to choose to rebel some times. They're going to naturally believe that they know what's best for them when that is not true.

I smile when I think about this situation. One of my friends has a daughter, and this daughter is very intelligent, and when she was three years old, this daughter was very articulate. She was very bright even then, and she was able to articulate things that most three-year-olds cannot articulate. And so these friends came to visit me and we had dinner together, my friend and her husband and their kids and her daughter, her three-year-old was not eating dinner, and her mom said to her, "okay, so if you choose not to eat this dinner, that means you are choosing not to have a snack afterwards. So even if you tell me that you're hungry, I'm not giving you a snack." And her daughter said, okay, and pushed her dinner away. So the mom took the dinner, cleaned the plate up, and then later the daughter was hungry. And so she asked the mom for a snack and her mom said, "no, I already told you that if you didn't eat your dinner, you would not be getting a snack even if you're hungry." And so then her daughter turns to me, and now this was comical because she didn't realize that everyone could hear her, but she turns to me and she says, "Elizabeth, how about you and me go and get some ice cream?" So I'm smiling and her parents are looking at me seeing how I'm going to respond. I said, "oh, no. You know what mommy said that if we didn't eat our dinner, we couldn't get a snack, and mommy is in charge and mommy knows what's best for us, so we're going to listen to mommy."

And my friend's three-year-old, she looks at me and she makes her scrunches up her face and she goes, "no, I am in charge and I know what's best for me." My friend and I, we just laughed and she said, sin nature at its finest. But that is what our children are going to consistently think because of that is what we think because we are fallen image bearers, our children are going to think that they are in charge and they know what's best for them, and that is simply not the truth. They are not in charge. God ultimately is in charge and he has put us in authority over them. And in many situations they do not know what is best for them because they are just children. So we need to keep these principles in mind, these principles that our children are image bearers and that they're fallen.

Another thing that's really important for us to think through, especially in this current cultural context is the fact that all throughout Scripture, it is clear that God has given different roles to different people and that those roles come with specific responsibilities and different responsibilities from one another. We see this in the Old Testament that with the nation of Israel, God gave specific people the role, whether they were assigned as a prophet, whether they were assigned as a priest, whether they were assigned as a king, whether they were assigned as a Levite, who is serving in the temple or who is caring for the things in the temple or whether they were an average layperson, that God had given different roles and that they were important for Israel to function as a nation.

And then we see examples in Scripture of people rebelling against these roles. And what happens in the book of Numbers, Aaron and Miriam, they rebel against Moses that they say, Hey, we are of the same bloodline. Moses is our brother. Moses shouldn't be the only leader here, and God very directly comes and punishes them that Miriam is made a leper, that she has the skin disease of leprosy and she's put outside the camp. Now Moses goes and intercedes for her and God very graciously heals her. But God is very clear that he has given Moses a specific role. It's a special role and a specific role, and it comes with certain responsibilities and it comes with a weight with those responsibilities, and that is not what God had assigned to Aaron and Miriam.

Similarly in numbers also the story of Cora Dathan and a byram that they come to Moses with a whole bunch of men from the tribe of Levi saying, "Hey, we're Levites too. What makes you so special that you get to lead the people?" And what happens is God calls down fire that swallows up Cora Dathan and a by and then the earth opens up and swallows up all the men that came with them because God had given Moses and Aaron very specific roles.

Now in the New Testament, it's very clear roles that God has given different people, that there are specific roles of church leadership that are only assigned to certain people. God has also given specific roles within the household, specific roles to husbands specific roles to wives, specific roles to children. And so this is something that we need to help our children understand that they are valuable members of our family, that God has assigned them a specific role in our family, and our family would not be the same without them, that they are valuable, but also because they are not right now parents that that's not their role in this family. We as the parents are going to have specific jobs that they do not have, that we have authority in our home in a way that they do not.

Now, our culture balks at this, our culture, this idea that parents have this authority that children do not have just makes our culture really upset because our culture is all about equity, and what equity is, is equity, is equality of outcome, that everybody gets the same outcome, everybody gets the same thing. There is complete uniformity. Our culture is all about equity. Scripture, God is not about equity. God is about equality of essence, yet diversity of callings and responsibilities and giftings. And what I mean by that was God is about equality of essence, meaning what it means to be human, God has given us equality there that every single human being is an image bearer of the holy God.

That image bearing cannot be stripped from a human no matter what stage of development they're in, no matter what stage of life, no matter their socioeconomic status, no matter what their body looks like, no matter their abilities, their disabilities, their ethnicity, their gender, none of that can change, can strip a human of their image bearing of the holy God. So there's an equality of essence.

Another great equalizer that we've already talked about is the fact that we're all fallen, that all of us are fallen. All of us are born in a state where we are separated from God and God is about equality of essence that all humans have an equal essence, equal value, dignity and worth. Yet there's a diversity in our callings, our roles and our giftings, our callings, our roles, and our giftings cannot change our essence. They cannot change our value and our worth, but they do change what we are called to do, and this is something we have to teach our children and that we have to recognize as parents.

I've heard a lot of my friends start to second guess the way they're disciplining their children. Now, second guessing the way we're disciplining our children, actually diving down deep into how are we disciplining them? Is it biblically based? Is this what is best for our children? That's a good thing to do to really evaluate what we're doing with our discipline. But the reason my friends have been second guessing themselves is they're saying, "you know what? When I discipline this way, my children start to do this and my children really shouldn't be doing this, so maybe I shouldn't discipline in this way." For example, I've heard a friend say, "I tell my children, be quiet. You cannot talk right now. Well, then my children turn around and they say to me, be quiet. You cannot talk right now."

Or I've had another friend say, "when my child, when she goes to put her hand on the stove or when she goes to run out in the street, I give her a pat on the hand so that she understands that that is not the right thing to do, that that's not a safe thing to do. Well, my daughter has turned around and she started to give me a pat on the hand when I do something that she doesn't want me to do." Well, there's in those situations for a few reasons. We as parents, do you have the authority to tell our children you cannot talk right now because there are situations in which it's not appropriate for them to talk.

Now, if we're saying that to them all the time at a frustration and anger, and we just want a perfectly quiet household, that's not biblical at all. We're not supposed to discipline our children because we are personally frustrated. We're supposed to discipline our children when they are disobeying the law of God. However, we do have the right to tell our children, "okay, I need you to be quiet right now" because there's times when it's not appropriate for them to talk. Where it's not appropriate for them to tell that to us because we are in a position of authority over them.

Similar with the pat on the hand when our two year old does something dangerous and we want to give them a physical reminder so that they don't burn their hand or lose their life. That's appropriate for us to do not out of anger, not because we're frustrated with them, but because we're teaching them how they are to behave. Where when our two year old pats us on the hand, she's doing that because she's mad at us and she's frustrated with us, but she does not have the authority to tell us what to do and what not to do. That's not the role that God has given her. Now, one day when she's a mom, yes, she will have that role, but that's not her role in her calling now, so should we pat her hand out of anger? No, absolutely not. We are not to discipline our children out of anger. We're to discipline them out of love for them, but we have to understand and we have to help them understand as well that there are things that we are called to do as their parents because of our role that they are not called to do and they cannot do.

Now, this is something again that our culture is going to get very upset about because it's all about equity that everybody has to get the same share of everything. Everybody has to be the same exact thing, the same exact way, where that's not the way that God designed the world. God is all about equality of essence and diversity of calling roles and gifting.

Then the final thing that I think we need to think through, the final biblical principle, I think we really need to think through in this situation is that the whole of Scripture tells the story of God's grand plan to redeem his people. That's what all of Scripture about is about, is about God revealing his plan to redeem us from the curse of the fall. And so therefore, we should make the gospel the main central focus in our parenting that we need to make sure that gospel is at the center of all we do.

Now, I know that this is a very popular thing to say. A lot of times in certain Christian circles, we love to talk about the gospel, the gospel, the gospel, the gospel, the gospel, and we should be talking about the gospel. But sometimes what we fail to do is then talk about what do we mean by that? What do we mean by the gospel being at the center of our parenting? Well, what I mean by that just in practical ways, is that the gospel should inform the way we invest our time. We need to look and think if our goal is for our children to be reconciled in their relationship to God, for them to know God, for them to be hungry for God, for them to seek through his word for them to live for God all the days of their life, how are we investing our time?

Are we investing most of the time that we have with our children in just frivolous things, or are we investing in things that really honor God? Now, this doesn't mean that we can never do any sports or any clubs or any fun things like that. There is value to recreation, but sometimes in the West, especially in the US, we take this to an extreme. So how are we investing our time in things that really matter for the gospel, that matter for eternity? What are the things that we need to say no to? What are the things that we need to say no to if we're going to make the gospel, this grand plan of God's redemption of humanity central to our parenting? It might mean that we say no to a sports team because that's going to take us away from investing in our church family, from investing in teaching our kids how to read, interpret, and apply Scripture.

I was just having a conversation with a friend earlier this week, and her daughter, her six or seven year old daughter was invited to take part in, I think it's Brownies or Daisies, I don't know, whatever the girl scout level is at that age, and she and her husband decided against it. They think that the girl scouts are a great thing to invest in, but they thought, you know what? We need to say no to this for the benefit of our family and our family being rooted in the gospel, because while this is a good thing, it's going to take away from the best thing.

And what are the things that we emphasize? What are the things that we emphasize? Are we more concerned with the grade that our child got on their last math test than we are with how that child is treating his or her siblings? Are we more concerned with a math grade than their treatment of their siblings? Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't care about math. Part of learning to be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us and the calling that he's given us to steward the world to rule and reign over creation involves doing well in mathematics to some degree. But if one has to take a priority over another an A on a math test versus learning how to treat your siblings as image bearers of the holy God, it better be treating our siblings as image bearers of the holy God that takes priority.

Then we need to make sure that we have the long term in mind because it's so easy in parenting. Now, those of you listening who have listened for a while, you know that I do not have children, that God has called me to invest in the body of Christ at large to invest in the children at large. However, he's not called me right now in the season of my life to parent my own physical offspring. So I do not know emotionally and even time-wise how difficult this is what I'm going to tell us, but I still think that I can speak truth into this area because I think it's very clear in Scripture that we need to have the long-term in mind that it's so easy as parents for us to get bogged down in the here and now and just thinking, "how can we survive today? How can we survive this week?" And to a certain degree, yes, we need to have our focus in the here and now and not three weeks from now, but we need to have the long-term in mind that parenting is not just about surviving today or surviving this week. It's about what habits are we building in to our schedule to point our children toward Jesus?

So I think if we have these biblical principles in mind that our children are image bearers, that they are fallen, that God has given them certain roles, responsibilities, and giftings, and that the whole of Scripture is about the gospel. So that's what our parenting needs to be focused on, then we are going to truly understand what we need to do in our parenting, and that is so much deeper than just understanding what does it mean to respect our children, and does the Bible call us to that?

Well, that's a wrap for this episode, but as always, my prayer for you as we leave this time together is that no matter the situation that you and the children God has placed in your care, find yourselves that you would trust that God is working all things together for your good by using those things to conform you more into the image of His Son. I'll see you next time.

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