Teach Your Children Well — Part Two
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Return to the Main Player
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Return to the Main Player

Teach Your Children Well — Part Two

From Series: Wise Words

The path of parenting can be full of rocks to climb and roots to avoid stumbling over. Pointing out the pitfalls, Alistair Begg teaches parents how to train our children as we walk this road. Without discouraging our sons and daughters, we must nourish their spirits, using rules and discipline to guide them. Though parenting may be demanding or even painful at times, parents can continue to trust in God’s promise that grace is available for our sons and daughters.


Sermon Transcript:

We’re going to turn to Proverbs 22 and also put our finger in Ephesians chapter 6. And as you do that, we’ll pray, and then we’ll study the Bible. Proverbs 22 and Ephesians 6.

And now, Father, we pray that as we study the Bible together, as we come to this most crucial part of our worship, we have spoken to you, we have prayed, we have sung, and now we believe that you speak to us through the Bible, by your Spirit. Grant to us, then, listening ears, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, we return to the book of Proverbs, although leaning fairly heavily as a cross-reference this morning, as you will discover, on Ephesians chapter 6.

A little while ago, we began to look at these proverbial statements, which, of course, come with a striking impact to us. I think one of the reasons that the book of Proverbs is so desirable and so accessible lies in the fact that these proverbial statements are ones that call to us, as Kidner says, from across the street.[1] They’re not particularly churchy. They address the issues of our life: laziness, friendship, the use and abuse of words and language, the place of sex, the privileges of learning what it means to be done with a jealous heart, and then, as we saw last time, the responsibilities—the peculiar challenges—of raising children.

And in the course of my reading, I was handed these great truths about life that children have learned, that adults have learned, and great truths about growing old, which are sort of proverbial statements with which I think Solomon would have been able to identify. For example, great truths about life that children know: When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair. You should never ask your three-year-old brother to hold a tom-a-to, or a tomato. You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk. Those of us who have grown to adulthood now realize that raising teenagers is like nailing Jell-O to a tree, begun to discover that wrinkles don’t hurt, that laughing is good exercise—it’s like jogging on the inside—and that middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fiber and not for the toy. For myself, I’ve given up on the health food completely. I need all the preservatives that I can get! It’s frustrating to have reached an age when now I know all the answers, but no one’s asking me any questions at all. When you fall down, you wonder what else you can do while you’re down there. And you know you’re getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking chair that you used to get from a roller coaster.

Proverbial statements that immediately make a point of contact. That’s what Solomon’s doing. He’s taking these statements that are God given, admittedly, but he is addressing the issues which are issues of great importance—not least of all, this matter of raising children.

Is there any more daunting challenge in all of the earth than being entrusted with little children and being asked to look after them and raise them? We saw last time that wisdom begins at home, that children are ours for a limited time only, that we can begin too late but never too soon, for we recognize that much that is represented in later life of both good and bad has actually been formed in the minds of our children in infancy.

The responsibility that is identified in the sixth verse here, which is before you, is that of training our children in the way that they should go, recognizing the fact that there is a way that they would go. And the challenge of Christian parenting is to recognize that the direction in which our children would naturally go is not the direction in which they need to go. And therefore, we’re immediately given the responsibility of a corrective challenge. We are to dedicate them to the Lord, whether in a public way, but certainly in private, in the way that was done in the life of Samuel. Hannah brought her son and said, “Here, I give him to you. I asked for him. You gave him to me. I want him returned to you.”[2] We want to do that with our children. We want then, having dedicated them to the Lord, to bring them instruction in the Lord. When Paul writes of Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15, you remember he says to them, “I want to encourage you and remind you of the Scriptures, which you have known from infancy.”[3] And the reason that he had known them from infancy was because his parents had been encouraging them—he and the rest of the family—in that way.

Now, to think in these terms is to put ourselves immediately cross-grained to the world in which we live. When we listen to society today, we recognize that it largely leaves young people without principles at all. The notion is that we’re setting young people free, but in actual fact, we’re making them helpless. And the mass of humanity deals with their children as if they were born for only this world. If you observe, if you listen to people speak, all of the emphasis, all of the energy, is completely earthbound. And, of course, that is understandable, because it begins with a worldview which says, “We are only here for the moment. Carpe diem, seize the day. Yesterday’s gone, tomorrow’s not coming, there is only now, and there is no eternity.”

And so, what do you find? You find that they educate their children consistently for time but not for eternity. They leave out the most fundamental question of any action, any activity, any involvement, which is this: How does this education, how does this trip, how does this relationship, how does this opportunity, how does this family affect their souls? Affect their souls. Because the Christian understands that encased within this shell which will one day be laid into the ground is a soul which will live forever in eternity—either in the presence of Christ and his followers, the redeemed, which is called heaven, or absent from the presence of Christ and those who are in Christ, which is called hell.

Our minds abhor vacuums. If we do not fill our minds with truth, then they won’t have nothing in them. They will be found to have error in them.

And the Bible says that we are moving in a linear progression towards that destiny. Any parents who seek to provide for, educate their children, stir within them principles that leave out the question of their souls, educates them in a way that is ultimately futile. So, all of their accomplishments (and we want them to be accomplished), all of their scholarships (and we’re delighted if they get them), all of their refinement (and we would love them to have it), all of their manners (and we hope that we instill them in them), all of those things rolled together in this great, wonderful, well-bred young girl or young man, if at the expense of godliness and faith, is an education without God, without his promise, without hope, without rest, and without peace.

Now, if you doubt that education leaves people high and dry, simply go to the highest forms of learning in this country. I have in my files—I didn’t bring it here—but I have in my files the stories of suicide at the Ivy League schools. Now, why would people with so much brainpower—to be able to be included in the most rarified intellectual group in the country—why would they do this? Because they are so clever that they’ve seen to the end of the chess game, and they have bought their package, and they believe that there is no hope and there is no future; therefore, they might as well punch out now while they have the chance.

Now, I speak this morning, I recognize, to a gathered group of people from different backgrounds. Some of you have come today for a variety of reasons, and you’ve walked right into the midst of this. You may be investigating who Jesus is. You may not have read a Bible in a while. You may be wondering, “Is there really any validity to the Bible story at all?” And what we’ve been discovering in reading Proverbs together is that it is full of wisdom which comes down from heaven, which is first of all pure and peaceable and gentle and open to reason.[4] And it is this wisdom, which is founded in the fear of the Lord—the recognition that he made us, and that we sinned, and that he came to redeem, and that in redemption we’re made new, and we look forward to the day when one day it will all be made perfect in heaven. And living in the middle of that, we recognize that to reject biblical principles of child-rearing is absolutely ruinous. Because our minds abhor vacuums. And if we do not fill our minds with truth, then they won’t have nothing in them; they will be found to have error in them. And therefore, it is not that we can simply say, “This doesn’t really matter, because after all, I leave my child with a blank slate.” No, we don’t leave them with a blank slate. The fact is that they’re going to be filled up with something.

Now, that’s what makes this verse all the more compelling, doesn’t it? It’s not difficult to understand: “Train a child.” We know what a child is. We’re going to discover what it means to train. Train them “in the way he should go.” So, there is a way that seems right to a man that ends in death.[5] There is a road that is a broad road that leads to destruction,[6] and by natural bent, our children would go on that road. The narrow road that leads to life is not a road that they will find themselves on by heritage or by nature or by inclination. Only by grace can we enter, and only by grace can we stand.

God’s grace operates through all kinds of influences. And one of the significant influences in terms of seeing children come to faith is the parental structure in which they are found, and particularly the role of the father, who is given the responsibility, as the head of the home, to make sure that he’s doing what needs to be done.

Now, it’s for that reason that I asked you to put your finger into Ephesians 6. Because when you turn forward to Ephesians 6, you find that Paul—who, of course, had been reared in a Jewish home, who had been brought up saying the Shema—that he is driving home the same principle. And he says, “I don’t want you, fathers, to end up exasperating your children. But instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” It’s almost a commentary, isn’t it, on Proverbs 22:6?

Just yesterday, I was driven to the airport by a policeman—an off-duty policeman, I should say. And as we drove there, I found out that he’d been born in Massachusetts, that he was now living in Kansas City, and that he was the husband of one wife, and they had a little three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. And as I inquired about his daughter and how she was doing and his hopes and dreams for her, it very quickly became apparent that he felt tyrannized by the environment in which he was living. “So much crime,” he said. “So many pressures, all of the influences that are upon us. And we see them already feeding into our homes, and we need to learn to resist them in our hearts.” And so we spoke a little bit about that. And that, of course, is the common thought of any sensible person. The world around us is antagonistic to biblical truth and biblical conviction. Therefore, unless we are prepared to stand against the tide, then we will drift with the tide. And every day that passes, it seems to be a greater challenge.

Some years ago, a father wrote to his son, and part of the letter read as follows:

[Your daughter] is growing up in the wickedest section of a world much farther gone into moral decline than the world into which you were [brought.] I have observed that the greatest delusion is to suppose that our children will be devout Christians simply because their parents have been, or that any of them will enter into the Christian faith in any other way than through their parents’ deep travail of prayer and faith. But this prayer demands time, time that cannot be given if it is all signed and conscripted and laid on the altar of career ambition. Failure for you, [son,] at this point would make mere success in your occupation a very pale and washed-out affair indeed.[7]

Read Ecclesiastes 5 and the description of the man who goes around the house, and he sees in the bedrooms of his children all these things that he’s bought for his children, but there are no children there. He’s a man who is all alone. He’s a lonely man. And at his funeral none of his children will stand up and say, “I wish my dad had gone to the office more often than he did.”

A Negative Exhortation

Now, my purpose this morning is to try and work through with you this exhortation, which both in Proverbs and in Ephesians comes negatively and positively. First of all, what are we not to do? Well, we have to make sure that in doing the positive things, we also do the negative, which is, “Do not exasperate your children.” “Do not exasperate your children.” In other words, don’t embitter them and don’t provoke them.

Now, of course, we have to say that some of us exasperate our children just by our mere existence. Like, you say, “Good morning!”

They say, “Oh, get out of here, Dad! Why’d you have to shout so loud?”

“I only said good morning!”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to say it so loud.”

“Okay, sorry. Good morning.”

“Pardon?”

“Oh, forget it.”

We run the gauntlet. We get dressed; it used to be you could get dressed and just go out. Now you have to try and find a way to get out before they see you, because you exasperate them just because of your clothes: “You’re not going out like that, are you, for goodness’ sake?”

Sometimes we exasperate our children because we do the right thing, because we say to them, “We’re going to church, and it’s a family event,” and they’re exasperated: “Aha!” says the listening child. “You’re not allowed to do that. Ephesians 6:4: ‘Do not exasperate your children.’ You’re exasperating me! And you’re not allowed to exasperate me. We’re outta here!” Okay, now, we gotta get outta that one, don’t we? Obviously, the Bible’s not talking about adjusting our behavior in the light of their silly response. The Bible is talking about adjusting our behavior in the light of biblical principles. And biblical principles take precedence over anything else. Therefore, I have to talk about this when we walk along the road and when we lie down and when we get up.[8]

“Why do you have to keep talking about this, Dad?”

“’Cause the Bible said we must.”

“Can’t you turn it off?”

“Well, maybe in a while. But for now, I think it’s good time to talk. That’s why I like to lie on your bed at night.”

“Well, I don’t want you on my bed at night.”

“Well, I don’t care. It’s my bed. I bought it. I’m lying on it. Do you have anything you want to talk about?”

“No! I told you I have nothing to talk about.”

“Okay. That’s okay. We’ll just lie in silence.”

Now, we could spend a whole morning delineating the way in which we can exasperate our children. I’m gonna give you a number of them, both from personal experience, sadly, and from biblical principle. I’m gonna go through them very quickly, because this is not the crux of what I want to drive home this morning. But let me give them to you, and those of you who can scribble fast can get them; the rest of you can buy the tape in the vestibule, if you care.

We exasperate our children by failing to allow them to be what they are—namely, children. And we illustrate that when we make irritating or unreasonable demands upon them—when we fail to take into account their inexperience, their immaturity, the fact that they say silly things, they have silly ideas, that they’re not particularly mature, their brains are not fully developed, and yet you listen to these silly parents talking to their children. The only thing that’s worse, as I pointed out to you last time, is the way they talk to their dogs, but it’s along the same lines: “Now, Jonathan, the premise is this. Of course, the subpremise is this. Here is my thesis, and speaking antithetically… Of course, the synthesis is…” And all they’re trying to say is, “Tie your shoelaces!” Do you realize how irritating that is?

I’m sure there was more reason than one that my mother never let me wear long pants until I was thirteen years old. Part of the reason was she wanted me never to forget that I was just a little boy. And when a little boy starts to dress like a man and walk like a man and be conversed with as if he were a man, we do that boy a great disservice—as we do our girls when we allow them, maturing, to assume the role of significant young lady before they have gone through the stage of little girl. You’re parents. You have to make your own decisions. But you can exasperate them by doing that.

Secondly, by treating them with harshness and cruelty. They have fragile lives. We don’t push our weight around. We’re not to be guilty of physical battering. We’re not to be guilty of verbal brutality—the danger of a kind of criticism which leaves them always guessing themselves, failing to take responsibility, unable to find where they’re really going because, on the basis of misguided love, we have felt that it is important for us to constantly point this out, to point that out, to point that out: “That’s not right. That’s wrong. Change that. Fix this. Do this. Do that.” Now, it’s not because we want to make them feel bad. It’s because we want them to become the best they can be. But it is misguided love. And it’s exasperating! “Can I ever do enough?” the child says. John Newton said, “I know that my father loved me, but he didn’t seem to wish me to see it.”[9]

Thirdly and obviously, by ridiculing them in front of others, especially their peers.

Fourthly, by portraying favoritism, displaying favoritism, entertaining unhelpful comparisons: “Why can’t you be like your brother? Why can’t you be like your sister? She’s so sensible. You’re so stupid.”

Fifthly, by our failure to express approval even at their apparently small accomplishments. And sometimes we’re gonna have to give them great approval for small accomplishments, because small accomplishments is all that they have. Not everybody’s mother is driving around town with a minivan with fifteen stickers on the back about how brilliant her kid is. And twenty years ago, that was just regarded as arrogance. It’s an indication of how messed up we are now. No mother in her right mind, a quarter of a century ago, would have driven through the middle of Solon with a gigantic sign on the back declaring, “My kids are brilliant.” That would have been regarded as crass. And it is crass! Let others praise you. Let others praise your kids. Let it be said by someone else. You don’t need to have it in neon lights on the back of the van.

We exasperate our children by being arbitrary in the exercise of discipline, so that they never know where they stand. They don’t know whether they’re going to get it or they’re not going to get it. They don’t know if this is the day when they get it or they don’t get it. And often, that emerges from the fact that we ourselves are arbitrary in our own self-discipline. So, you will never learn, I will never learn, to discipline my children properly unless I’ve learned to discipline myself. And if I am arbitrary in the way I deal with sin in my own life, then it will be inevitable that I am arbitrary in the way I deal with it in my children’s lives. When my children hear godliness from my mouth and they see wickedness in my life, then I point them to heaven, but I lead them to hell. When they hear godliness out of my mouth and they see wickedness in my life, then I point them to heaven, and I lead them to hell. In this respect, neglect is far better than inconsistency. Far better to do nothing than to make this hodgepodge of it. For at least the children will know, “I’m dealing now with absolutely nothing.” But when they’re dealing with a parent who is one day here and the next day there, whose words and his life are parted by a great and significant divide, the children are completely bamboozled. And imitation is a far more powerful principle than memory. Imitation is a far more powerful principle than memory.

Now, some of us learn better by memory. Others of us learn better by imitation. I can sit and look at a thing that describes how to put the luggage tag on the bag—I can look at that thing till my eyes burn through it like a laser, and still I can’t understand where the jolly thing goes, you know. Does it go round the back, or is that the front? Do I hold it upside down? I give it to Sue. She looks at it. Boom! It’s done. What’s the problem? Well, I’m dumb! That’s the problem. I can’t do this. I don’t learn so well in this way. But the fact of the matter is, I learned to hit a golf ball by imitation, not by a book. I learned to walk by imitation. I learned to cross my legs in a seat the same way my father does by imitation. And for those of you who’ve been apprenticed in any trade, most of what you learned, you learned by imitation. Then you backed it up with books, didn’t you? You backed it up with books, but you learned it by imitation. “How do I give this injection?” “Take the thing,” says, “take the thing, put the thing…” Nah, forget that! Show me how to do it. Our lives speak so loudly that we’ll never be able to counteract it by instruction that we expect our children to memorize.

When my children hear godliness from my mouth and they see wickedness in my life, then I point them to heaven, but I lead them to hell.

We also exasperate them when we neglect them and we make them feel like an intrusion.

By seeking to make them achieve our goals rather than their own goals, we exasperate them: “Let me tell you what you’re going to be, son. Let me tell you how you’re going to get there. Let me tell you where you’re going to study. Let me tell you why this is best for you. Let me do it all for you.”

And along with that, we exasperate our children by our overprotection of them, or by withdrawing love from them.

And when these things and other things like them fall into place, the result, says Paul—not only here but in Colossians 3; you can find it in verse 21—the result is that our children “become discouraged.” They become discouraged. “So,” says Paul, “I want you to make sure that you do not do this, but let me tell you what you need to do.” And then he gives a word of positive exhortation. And this concurs with Proverbs 22:6, and we spend the remaining, the balance of our time, which isn’t long, right there.

A Positive Exhortation

What are we supposed to do? Well, we’re supposed to “bring them up.” The Greek verb is ektrephó. It means to nourish or to feed them. It means to cherish them fondly. It means to rear them tenderly. It means to sustain them spiritually. These are the things that we are to enforce for our children—the things that the Bible deems important. They’re fragile little creatures. Their need for tenderness and security is manifest everywhere. They are like wet cement, and there’s only a brief opportunity for you to put your hands in the cement, and you go away and have a coffee and come back, and it’s too late! And that, of course, is one of the great challenges for us in the pain that some of us feel: that we didn’t have our hands in it enough when the cement was wet, and things have become frozen over, and now we can’t go back without drills and mechanisms to chip into it all.

Not only, he says, are we to “bring them up,” but we are also to “bring them up in the training,” paideia, from which we get pedagogue—the pedagoguery of parenting. The same word you’ll find in Hebrews 12:11. This refers to the training which takes place by means of rules, regulations, rewards, and the necessary punishments.

Punishments. Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 22:15. “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” The lady’s in the news every twenty minutes now on CNN, getting in and out of the minivan. I haven’t… I don’t know the story in full, so I daren’t comment on it. But it certainly has profiled the issue of whether you can spank your child. The Bible is really clear: yes, you can, and yes, you should. It’s also really clear that when the rod is exercised in tyranny, it’s really wrong—that when spanking would take place out of envy, jealousy, malice, pride, anger, scorn, it’s really wrong. And the danger is that we neglect one or the other—that we become extremists either in relationship to the doing of it or to the neglecting of it, the excessive use of discipline or the exercise of no discipline at all. Therefore, we have to make sure that in the exercise of discipline, we’re careful that we don’t do it in a moment of temper, that we’re annoyed, that our pride has been injured. We need, especially with our children, to discriminate between childish irresponsibility and willful disobedience. And we don’t discipline them for irresponsibility; we discipline them for willful disobedience. And we discipline them to subject their will to the right way and to seek to enable their hearts to be purified.

Now, as I thought about it in preparation for this morning, I was thinking about, “How many spankings did I get as a boy?” Now, you look at me now, and you say, “Probably a great deal.” No, I got more hidings in school than I got at home. But I didn’t get a lot at home. I think I got enough; you can judge that—or I don’t care whether you judge it or not, actually. But the memorable ones are only… I don’t think I can get beyond three spankings. Oh, I’m sure there were more. But the very fact that I can only remember one in particular, where I had to bend over the bathtub—which was, like, a momentous event. Now, the reason for that was because my sister. Blame it on your sister! I mean, it was her fault. She was annoying me, she was a pain in the neck, and I had to deal with her. And in dealing with her, I had to catch her, but I couldn’t catch her. And in endeavoring to inflict punishment upon her, I kicked her as she ran away from me, in her posterior, and knocked her head into a corner table. That explains a great deal about that one sister ever since. But she had a gigantic egg which wouldn’t go down. I’m praying, “Go down, egg. Go down, egg.” Because my father’s coming home; the egg must go down before he walks in. But, of course, the egg did not go down. But the pants came down. And I got a hiding.

Now, the reason was that he saw in his son something that a little conversation was not about to deal with. Because this had become a pattern of the flaring temper, of the resentful heart, of the jealous spirit. And folly is bound up in the heart of that kind of kid, and conversations will not drive it far from him, no matter what the European Court says. Isn’t that a staggering thought, that some of us may go to jail in America, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, for disciplining our children? That we may go to jail in America for refusing to employ a homosexual? That we may go to jail in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, for exercising the prerogatives that are so clearly ours within the framework of the home? What a world! What a place! What a challenge! What an importance to do it God’s way, the Bible way. Any dead fish can go with the stream.

Now, you’ll notice as well that this training is also in the “instruction of the Lord”—nouthesia, from which we get our word nouthetic. It refers to what we do with the child and what we say to the child. Beware of being nondirective, the silly stuff about just letting them choose for themselves. The notion is so prevalent that to challenge it is to be regarded with caution, you know. But its foolishness was aptly commented on in an encounter between Thelwall and Coleridge—Thelwall, the revolutionary. Thelwall told Coleridge that he thought it very unfair to give a child’s mind a certain bent before it could choose for itself. Says Coleridge, “I showed him my garden, covered with weeds. I said, ‘Look at that! It’s a botanical garden.’ ‘How so?’ I replied that it had not yet come to years of discretion. True, the weeds had taken the mean advantage of growing everywhere, but I could not be so unfair as to prejudice the soil in favor of roses and strawberries.”[10] All right? That’s perfectly understandable in the natural world. Now transfer that into the world of rearing our children. It’s absolute stupidity!

You saw the statistics that came out this week on premarital sex. Where does that happen? In our own houses! Those of us who think we’re really in charge, that we really know what we’re doing, we haven’t got a clue! But we’re not going to interfere in this, you know. We’re just gonna let them develop and explore and be themselves, you know. No, we don’t want them to come out with the rose of virginity, do we? No, we would rather they came out with the weeds of infidelity. Absolute, total stupidity. “The fool [has said] in his heart, ‘There is no God,’”[11] and from that flows every aberration from God’s truth.

It’s All Grace

Now, a word in finishing, ’cause I need to finish, for two reasons: one, because our time is gone, and secondly, because some of you are already gone, although you’re still sitting here.

Let me say this to you as an older man now: this training of Proverbs 22 and Ephesians 6—this training is a work of watchful anxiety that never quits. It’s a work of watchful anxiety that never quits. It is painful, it is protracted, and it demands everything of us as parents.

While the emphasis here is on dads, parenting is clearly a shared responsibility. Every dad knows that he couldn’t do what he’s supposed to do without the encouragement at the place of his wife. In fact, it’s absolutely crucial. But how do we hold on to this promise, this Proverbs 22:6? “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”[12] How are we to hold on to this promise? Well, when you read Ecclesiastes, it says that our bread that is cast on the waters may not be found until after many days.[13] In Ecclesiastes 3, it says that God makes “everything beautiful in his time.”[14] In Habakkuk 2, it says that the revelation of God has attached to it “an appointed time,”[15] and that God, who works everything out in conformity to his eternal counsel and will, promises to fulfill the promises of his Word. Think about it! Why do you believe you’re a Christian? Because you accepted his promise: “He who comes to me I will in no wise cast out.”[16] What are you basing your eternal destiny on? The promise of God’s Word. What is your hope that your children will end up in heaven with you? The promise of God’s Word.

From start to finish, it’s all grace.

And as you go down that road, sometimes you’re gonna have to tie yourself to the promise of God’s Word. You’re gonna have to bind it around your head and write it on your heart:[17] “O God, fulfill the promise of your Word. For here’s my son, or here’s my daughter. Apparently, they have departed. They’re not on the road. I did what I was supposed to do. But they’re not on the road. They’ve departed.” What is my assumption? What is my expectation? My expectation is that God will fulfill his Word, when he’s old. How old? I don’t know how old. Seventy years old? Will she be sixty years old, and invited over to a neighbor’s house, and suddenly, at the neighbor’s house, she listens as the music plays on the stereo, and the music on the stereo triggers something in her conscience, and her conscience is stirred, and it reminds her of an early impression, and the early impression takes over the smothering convictions which have squashed her journey all the way through the last sixty years? The son is out and gone, and we pray that his conscience will be disturbed, that his pleasures will be bitter, and as a result of the bitterness of some of the fancies that our child has found in their wanderings, that suddenly all of that which has been grounded into them in those early days will come to fruition and bring them to faith—that the reminder of the Father’s house and the prospect of mercy will bring them back up the road, the way the boy comes back up the road.[18] Why does he come back up the road? He comes back up the road because of the prospect of mercy, because he knows of the forgiveness that is there in his father. Are you praying on for your children? I hope you are.

In this movie that’ll come—the video on the third—the best part in it for me is when he says, after he’s gone through ten years of Buddhism and through the whole trip with George Harrison, and he meets a girl in Nashville—I don’t want to spoil it for you. But after he comes through this, comes to the end of this long and winding road, there’s a part in the movie—I think he says it off camera—and he says, “And so it was that I found myself drinking the sweet well water of my mother’s prayers for my brother and myself. She never, ever stopped praying.” How do think she felt when he was in Hollywood? How do you think she felt when he embraced the whole Capitol Records trip? How do you think she felt when he’s smoking dope up in the Beverly Hills? What does she say to her husband? “This thing doesn’t work! This Proverbs 22:6 stuff, it’s no good.” No, it’s good! All the promises of God find their “Yes” and their “Amen” in the Lord Jesus.[19] Hold on. Hold on! Keep trusting. Keep expecting. Christian diligence. “Leave God to order all your ways, and trust in him whate’er besides.”[20]

Because I’ll tell you this: it’s all grace. It’s all grace. From start to finish, it’s all grace. Why are you a Christian today? Grace. Did you earn it? Did you sign up for it? You can’t explain it. It’s “amazing grace! How sweet the sound.”[21] And as a father pities his children, so the Lord pity them that fear him.[22] As you think about this, fathers, rest in God’s grace. Discover God’s grace first in your own heavenly Father, then go out and be gentle and tender with your children, wise. Who knows but a little word from you may make all the difference in the rest of their lives?

With this I close. Benjamin West, who’s a painter, tells of how he became a painter. His mother left him at home to look after his sister, Sally. She was his wee sister, and she said, “Don’t mess around while I’m gone. Look after Sally, and I’ll be back.” Soon as his mother left the house, he found coloring inks, and he got these coloring inks out, and he got brushes, and he got paper, and he got the paper out, and he started to paint a portrait of Sally, in the course of which he got colored ink everyplace—all over everything, not just the paper. And of course, his mother came back, and when she walked in the room and saw the incredible mess, she also looked forward, and she picked up the paper. And she said, “It’s Sally!” And she bent down and kissed her son. And West said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.”[23]

Well, I’m so ready to walk in and say, “You got ink everywhere. You’ve got the whole thing messed up. I mean, can’t you do one decent, righteous thing for once in your life?” And then I realize how God treats me. It’s his kindness that leads me to repentance.[24] Kindness. Are you a kind dad? Are you a forgiving dad? It’s all grace.

Let’s pray:

Father God, we bless you this morning that the Bible speaks to the issues of our lives. It’s like taking an MRI. It searches right in, it makes us feel uncomfortable, it makes us smile and squirm. It’s tough. And were it not for the promises of your Word that you, like an earthly father, discipline us for our good so that the experience of discipline, though painful for a little time, will later produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness[25]—produce that in our lives, God, we pray, and enable us, in our stumblings and our bumblings, to do a better job than we’ve done in raising these fragile, tender children who are given to us for such a short time. Thank you for the reminder that it’s all grace. Stir our hearts with the wonder of grace. Help us to take our stand there. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.


[1] Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (1964; repr., London: Tyndale, 1968), 35.

[2] 1 Samuel 1:27−28 (paraphrased).

[3] 2 Timothy 3:14–15 (paraphrased).

[4] See James 3:17.

[5] See Proverbs 14:12.

[6] See Matthew 7:13.

[7] James C. Dobson, Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives (Waco: Word, 1984), 49.

[8] See Deuteronomy 6:7.

[9] John Newton, The Works of the Rev. John Newton, ed. Richard Cecil, 3rd ed. (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1824), 1:2. Paraphrased.

[10] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Carl Woodring, vol. 14, Table Talk I (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 181. Paraphrased.

[11] Psalm 14:1 (NIV 1984).

[12] Proverbs 22:6 (KJV).

[13] See Ecclesiastes 11:1.

[14] Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV 1984).

[15] Habakkuk 2:3 (NIV 1984).

[16] John 6:37 (paraphrased).

[17] See Proverbs 6:21.

[18] See Luke 15:17–20.

[19] See 2 Corinthians 1:20.

[20] Georg Neumark, trans. Catherine Winkworth, “Leave God to Order All Thy Ways” (1653). Lyrics lightly altered.

[21] John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).

[22] See Psalm 103:13.

[23] William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, rev. ed., The Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 178.

[24] See Romans 2:4.

[25] See Hebrews 12:7–11.

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.