Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” —Ephesians 6:4
If we are to carry out the Apostle’s injunction…we must sit back for a moment and consider what we have to do. When the child comes, we must say to ourselves, “We are the guardians and the custodians of this soul.” What a dread responsibility! In business and in professions, men are well aware of the great responsibility that rests upon them in the decisions they have to take. But are they aware of the infinitely greater responsibility they bear with respect to their own children? Do they give even the same amount of thought and attention and time to it, not to say more? Does it weigh as heavily upon them as the responsibility that they feel in these other realms? The Apostle urges us to regard this as the greatest business in life, the greatest matter that we ever have to handle and transact.
The Apostle does not stop at that: “Bring them up,” he says, “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The two words he uses are full of interest. The difference between them is that the first, nurture, is more general than the second. It is the totality of nurturing, rearing, bringing up the child. It includes, therefore, general discipline. And, as all the authorities are agreed in pointing out, its emphasis is upon actions. The second word, admonition, has reference rather to words that are spoken. Nurture is the more general term and includes everything that we do for the children. It includes the whole process in general of the cultivation of the mind and the spirit, the morals and the moral behavior, the whole personality of the child. That is our task. It is to look upon the child, care for it, and guard it…
The word admonition carries much the same meaning, except that it puts greater emphasis upon speech. Thus, there are two aspects of this matter. First, we have to deal with general conduct and behavior, the things we have to do by actions. Then, in addition, there are certain admonitions that should be addressed to the child: words of exhortation, words of encouragement, words of reproof, words of blame. Paul’s term includes all these, indeed everything we say to the chil-dren in actual words when we are defining positions and indicating what is right or wrong, encouraging, exhorting, and so on. Such is the meaning of the word admonition.
Children are to be reared in “the nurture and the admonition”—and then the most important addition of all—“of the Lord.” This is where Christian parents, engaged in their duty towards their chil-dren, are in an entirely different category from all other parents. In other words, this appeal to Christian parents is not simply to exhort them to bring up their children in terms of general morality or good manners or commendable behavior in general. That, of course, is included. Everyone should be doing it; non-Christian parents should be doing it. They should be concerned about good manners, good general behavior, an avoidance of evil. They should teach their children to be honest, dutiful, respectful, and all these various things. That is but common morality, and Christianity has not started at that point. Even pagan writers interested in the good ordering of society have always exhorted their fellow men to teach such principles. Society cannot continue without a modicum of discipline and of law and order at every level and at every age. But the Apostle is not referring to that only. He says that the children of Christians are to be brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
It is at this point that the peculiar and specific Christian thinking and teaching enter. In the forefront of the minds of Christian parents must ever be the thought that the children are to be brought up in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and as Lord. That is the peculiar task to which Christian parents alone are called. This is not only their supreme task: their greatest desire and ambition for their children should be that they should come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and as their Lord. Is that our main ambition for our children? Does that come first?—that they may come to “know Him Whom to know is life eternal,” that they may know Him as their Savior and that they may follow Him as their Lord? “In the nurture and admonition of the Lord!” These, then, are the terms the Apostle uses.
…In the Bible itself there is a great deal of emphasis laid upon child training. Take, for instance, words found in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. Moses has reached the end of his life, and the children of Israel are shortly to enter the Promised Land. He reminds them of the Law of God and tells them how they are to live when they enter into the land of their inheritance. And among other things, he is very careful to tell them that they have to teach their children the Law. It is not enough that they know it and observe it themselves; they must pass on their knowledge. The children must be taught it and must never forget it…
It is very interesting to observe in the long history of the Christian church how this particular matter always reappears and receives great prominence at every period of revival and re-awakening. The Protestant Reformers were concerned about it, and the instruction of chil-dren in moral and spiritual matters was given great prominence. The Puritans gave it still greater prominence, and the leaders of the Evangelical Awakening of two hundred years ago also did the same. Books have been written about this matter and many sermons preached about it.
This happens, of course, because when people become Christian it affects the whole of their lives. It is not merely something individual and personal; it affects the marriage relationship, and so there are far fewer divorces among Christian people than among non-Christian people. It also affects the life of the family, it affects the children, it affects the home, it affects every department of human life. The greatest epochs in the history of this country, and of other countries, have always been the years that have followed a religious awakening, a revival of true religion. The moral tone of the whole of society has been raised; even those who have not become Christian have been influenced and affected by it.
In other words, there is no hope of dealing with the moral problems of society except in terms of the Gospel of Christ. Right will never be established apart from godliness; but when people become godly they proceed to apply their principles all along the line, and righteousness is seen in the nation at large. But, unfortunately, we have to face the fact that for some reason this aspect of the matter has been sadly neglected in this present century…For one reason or another, the family does not count as it used to do. It is not the center and the unit that it was formerly. The whole idea of family life has somehow been declining; and this, alas, is partly true in Christian circles also. The family’s central importance that is found in the Bible and in all the great periods to which we have referred seems to have disappeared. It is no longer being given the attention and the prominence that it once received. That makes it all the more important for us to discover the principles that should govern us in this respect.
First and foremost, the bringing up of children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” is something that is to be done in the home and by the parents. This is the emphasis throughout the Bible. It is not something that is to be handed over to the school, however good the school may be. It is the duty of parents—their primary and most essential duty. It is their responsibility, and they are not to hand over this responsibility to another. I emphasize this because we are all well aware of what has been happening increasingly during this present century. More and more, parents have been transferring their responsibilities and their duties to the schools.
I regard this as a most serious matter. There is no more important influence in the life of a child than the influence of the home. The home is the fundamental unit of society; and children are born into a home, into a family. There you have the circle that is to be the chief influence in their lives. There is no question about that. It is the biblical teaching everywhere, and it is always in so-called civilizations where ideas concerning the home begin to deteriorate that society ultimately disintegrates…
In the Old Testament, it is quite clear that the father was a kind of priest in his household and family; he represented God. He was responsible not only for the morals and the behavior but for the instruction of his children. The Bible’s emphasis everywhere is that this is the primary duty and task of the parents. And it remains so to this day. If we are Christians at all, we must realize that this great emphasis is based upon those fundamental units ordained by God—marriage, family, and home. You cannot play fast and loose with them…
What are parents to do? They are to supplement the teaching of the church, and they are to apply the teaching of the church. So little can be done in a sermon. It has to be applied, to be explained, to be extended, to be supplemented. That is where the parents play their part. And if this has been always right and important, how much more so today than ever before! I ask Christian parents, Have you ever given serious thought to this matter? You face a greater task, perhaps, than parents have ever done, and for the following reason. Consider what is now being taught the children in the schools. The theory and hypothesis of organic evolution is being taught them as a fact. They are not being presented with it as a mere theory that has not been proved; they are given the impression that it is an absolute fact, and that all people of scientific knowledge and learning believe it. And they are regarded as odd if they do not accept it. We have to meet that situation…Children are being taught perverse things in the schools. They hear them on the wireless and see them on the television. The whole emphasis is anti-God, anti-Bible, anti-true Christianity, anti-miraculous, and anti-supernatural. Who is going to counter these trends? That is precisely the business of parents—“Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” It demands great effort by the parents at the present time because the forces against us are so great. Christian parents today have this unusually difficult task of protecting their children against these powerful adverse forces that are trying to indoctrinate them. There, then, is the setting!
To be practical, I wish, in the second place, to show how this is not to be done. There is a way of trying to deal with this situation that is quite disastrous and does much more harm than good. How is this not to be done?
It is never to be done in a mechanical, abstract manner, almost “by numbers,” as if it were some sort of drill. I remember an experience of my own in this connection some ten years or so ago. I went to stay with some friends while I was preaching in a certain place; and I found the wife, the mother of the family, in a state of acute distress. In conversation, I discovered the cause of her distress. A certain lady had been there lecturing that very week, her theme being “How to bring up all the children in your family as good Christians.” It was wonderful! She had five or six children, and she had so organized her home and her life that she finished all her domestic work by nine o’clock in the morning, and then gave herself to various Christian activities. All her children were fine Christians; and it was all so easy, so wonderful. The mother talking to me, who had two children, was in a state of real distress feeling that she was a complete and utter failure. What had I to say to her? This: I said, “Wait a moment; how old are the children of this lady?” I happened to know the answer, and my friend knew also. Not one of them at that time was above the age of sixteen, or thereabouts. I went on: “Wait and see. This lady tells you that they are all Christians, and that all you need is a scheme that you carry out regularly. Wait a while; the story may be different in a few years.” And, alas, it turned out to be very different. It is doubtful whether more than one of those children is a Christian. Several of them are openly anti-Christian and have turned their backs upon it all. You cannot bring up children to be Christians in that way. It is not a mechanical process, and in any case, it was all so cold and clinical…A child is not a machine, and so you cannot do this work mechanically.
Nor must the work ever be done in an entirely negative or repressive manner. If you give children the impression that to be religious is to be miserable and that it consists of prohibitions and constant repression, you may well drive them into the arms of the devil and into the world. Never be entirely negative and repressive…
My last negative at this point is that we must never force a child to a decision. What trouble and havoc has been wrought by this! “Isn’t it marvelous?” say the parents, “my little So-and-So, a mere youngster, decided for Christ.” Pressure had been brought to bear in the meeting. But that should never be done. You are violating the personality of the child. In addition, of course, you are displaying a profound ignorance of the way of salvation. You can make a little child decide anything. You have the power and the ability to do so; but it is wrong, it is unchristian, it is not spiritual…Do not force them to a decision…
What then is the true way?...The important point is that the impression should always be given that Christ is the Head of the house or the home. How is that impression given? Chiefly by your general conduct and example! The parents should be living in such a way that the children should always have a feeling that they themselves are under Christ, that Christ is their Head. The fact should be obvious in their conduct and behavior. Above all, there should be an atmosphere of love…The fruit of the Spirit is love, and if the home is filled with an atmosphere of the love produced by the Spirit, most of its problems are solved. That is what does the work, not the direct pressures and appeals, but an atmosphere of love….
From Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home & Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18 to 6:9, published by The Banner of Truth Trust, www.banneroftruth.org.