Dear Radio Friends,
A responsible, upright man is a blessing in home, church, and society. Our unbelieving society is at a loss for such men. Many men choose a life of irresponsibility and selfishness. They boast in their drunkenness and unproductive life. Even if they do marry they let their wives run the family while they indulge in their sports and drinking. This is not true of the man who fears God. He does not follow after the godless example of the unbelieving man, but rather chooses to walk responsibly in the ways of God. This is true of him already in childhood and youth. And it is especially true of him when he matures and takes his place in family and church. He is repelled by the wicked ways of the unrighteous man.
The last couple of broadcasts we devoted to the upright man’s relationship with his wife. Today we turn to the relationship a father must establish with his children in the home. Again, we are dealing in the main with the relationship that a father must establish with his children in the home. Some time ago we addressed the relationship a virtuous woman establishes with her children. Today we focus our attention on the father in relation to his children. We do so from the point of view of Solomon’s word to us in Proverbs 23:24-26, which reads, “The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him. Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice. My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.”
This passage strikes at the very core of what every believing father must seek to establish with his children. And although Solomon addresses his son here, making this passage very personal, nevertheless it needs to be applied more broadly to include the daughter as well as the son. Every father must seek to win the hearts of his children in order that he can turn their hearts to the Lord. That is the key to Christian pedagogy, to child rearing. A father must say to every child whom God is pleased to give him: Give me your heart!
GIVE ME YOUR HEART
I. Father’s Prime Desire
The salvation of our children is not something that drops automatically from heaven simply because they are born to believing parents. Salvation does not belong to them because it is their right, being born into the sphere of the church. Salvation is a work of God’s grace—sovereign, free grace. God chooses whom He wills, and these He saves. At the same time, believing parents are given the promise of God’s covenant that God will save in the line of their generations. God is pleased to do this, however, in those families where father (and mother, of course) diligently labors to raise his children in the fear of the Lord. It is not that our labor as fathers saves our children. But God uses the means of godly fathers who are willing to nurture their children to save in the line of generations. This is done when a father touches the hearts of his children with his life in the home. That, of course, is how a believing father addresses his son in the verse before us here in Proverbs: “My son, give me thy heart!” That must be the prime desire of a godly father in his relationship with his children: he must desire their hearts.
But we need to understand what this means. It does not mean, “My son, give me your outward behavior.” This is how much parenting is performed, I’m afraid. And it is easy to fall into this way of thinking too. A father can insist that his children follow all the right actions that make them look good on the outside. “Here is what you must do, children, in order to be a good Christian. You must go to church. You must attend catechism. You need to marry a person from the church. You must memorize and defend these certain doctrines of the church.”
Do not misunderstand my point here. I am not saying these things are wrong and we ought not to insist on godly living. We certainly should! We need to teach our children good behavior and good, godly habits. But we as fathers must not merely be interested in outward behavior—a going through the proper motions of one’s faith. When fathers do only this with their children, one of two things will happen. Either the child will rebel against his or her parents when they come of age. He will say, “All you were interested in was outward appearances. You only wanted me to look clean on the outside so that people would not judge you as being a bad father. You did not really care about me! You only cared about what other people think of you!”
It will either be that reaction, or it will be the opposite, that our children are mere robots going through the outward actions of faith without truly believing. They will be little replicas of father and mother, but without the faith of father and mother. The church will become a social club where everyone follows the rules to be a part of it. Our children will grow up to have good morals, but with no real conviction of faith. They will say the right things, they will follow the right mode of operation in the church, but with no real knowledge of sin and salvation in Christ. Then eventually the structure of the church will slowly break down and the church itself will begin to crumple. Children will start living like the world, with the false sense of assurance that they are saved anyway. Solomon as a father does not say to his son, “My son, give me your behavior.” He says rather, “My son, give me your heart!”
Ah, yes, the heart! There is such a horrible misconception of what the heart is in the church today. The heart is often made synonymous with feelings. Follow your heart means follow your feelings. What makes you feel good at the moment, go with it! But that is not the scriptural idea of a person’s heart. The heart is the very spiritual core of a man’s soul. Solomon writes in Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” As the heart goes, so go one’s thoughts and desires. If the heart is filled with sin and wickedness; if there is no fear of God in the heart, then all of a person’s thoughts, desires, and actions will follow in the way of the heart. Where a person’s heart is at spiritually, from there will all the issues of life proceed. This is where fallen man’s depravity is rooted—in his spiritual center, the heart. If the heart is depraved, so will that person’s outward behavior be corrupt. But if that heart is where the Spirit of our risen Lord dwells, then that Spirit will direct the thoughts, desires, and actions of a man. A good heart spiritually will produce good thoughts, words, and deeds. This is exactly why Solomon says to his children: Give me your heart! If I can influence your heart in the right way, your outward behavior will follow. A father can teach his children the way of godly living, but godly living must be rooted in the hearts of our children! That is why this passage of God’s Word expresses the very core or essence of proper child rearing.
An upright man must follow this principle: Give me the hearts of my children!
But how does a father put this principle into practice? That is the all-important question. Solomon explains, “Let thine eyes observe my ways.” Or, in other words, watch me and follow my example. We remember, once again, that this is the inspired Word of God we consider today. Just as with the Song of Solomon we considered last broadcast, we need to be reminded of that because of Solomon’s great sin. He certainly was not the best of examples to his children. In fact, he was a downright lousy example. Certainly we would not want our children following after Solomon’s example. But we must remember that the Proverbs contain the wisdom of God in raising children, and that includes the passage we have before us today.
An upright man who fears God must be able to penetrate the barrier that society seeks to create between himself and his children. The world surges forward in its developments. This is so true in its technology, first of all. When I was young, the transistor radio came out, and young people began to carry their music with them outside of the home—unsupervised by parents. Then there were the eight-track tape players and cassette tapes on which were recorded the music of pop culture. And that was just the beginning. It has gone from CDs to Mp3s or live Internet that can be carried in a person’s pocket—a little instrument a young person can use to gain access to all the filth and hedonistic lifestyle available in the world. With that the trends in entertainment change too. The television and movies have gone from family-orientated entertainment to sex and violence, the super-human strength of men, and such fantasies as the age of dinosaurs or extra-terrestrial intelligence. The philosophy from one generation to the next seems to change so quickly from rationalism, to modernism, to post-modernism, to hedonism. How can godly parents keep up with all these fast-moving changes that overtake each new generation?
The way a father prevents a barrier between himself and his children is by saying, “My children, observe my ways!” This very statement implies that a father opens up his own life and heart to his children. While they are still young, he enters into their lives and becomes one with them. He shows them attention, he is interested in their lives, he talks with them, plays with them. He studies God’s Word with them and discusses his own spiritual values and goals. He gives them his affection. He encourages them. In short, he involves himself in their lives. His life is immersed in the lives of his wife and children. For the sake of his children a father will be willing to set aside some of his own pursuits and passions in order to take time out to be with his children. When he lives so closely with his children, he will be able to say, “Observe my ways! This is how I, when I was young, dealt with the same problems or dilemmas you confront. I had to deal with these kinds of pressures too when I was young. I had to come to a decision pleasing to God too in my use of technology and modern trends. Maybe my decisions were made in my use of a transistor radio and you need to make decisions regarding your smart phone, but the decisions are the same. Observe how I have overcome the hazards of youth that will draw you away from God. And observe the way I live now. I have matured. I’m your father and have learned a few things along the way.” And children will be willing to follow father’s example simply by observing the way he lives now. They will not say, “Oh, he does that because he is old,” even though they might tease him about that. But because his children are his friends—he has made a heart connection with them—they will observe and follow in his ways.
II. A Gracious Fruit
The fruit of making this our prime desire as fathers is given us in verse 24: “The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him.” An upright father, when raising his children properly, will produce upright children. The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice. When father gains the hearts of his children and they observe his ways, then they become righteous. That word “righteous” in our text here is an interesting term because it is usually used of a judge who maintains the right by dispensing justice. He makes right judgments. He is honest and fair. The idea when applied to our children is that they grow up and make good judgments in life—judgments that are in accordance with God’s commandments. Further, it means that our children will be honest and fair in their dealings with others.
Now, it is obvious that such righteousness is the fruit of the labors of righteous parents. The Hebrew term here does not point to the righteousness we have before God on account of the work of our Savior. We well know that we are justified before God not on account of the way our parents teach us. We are justified in the blood of Christ alone. That is a given. We who were guilty before God of the sin of Adam and our own personal sins are declared righteous before God because Christ has suffered our punishment to deliver us from our guilt. And that our children walk righteously before God in the way of His commandments is indeed entirely an act of God’s grace too! A father can do everything right. He can give of himself to his children. But if God has not chosen a particular child to be His own; if God has sovereignly rejected that child in eternity, then no matter what amount of labor is bestowed on that child, he will not be righteous, but rebellious. Let us not forget, God’s decree of sovereign election and reprobation cuts through the heart of the church too. The salvation of our children takes a work of God’s grace in their hearts.
But God does use means. If a father thinks his children will turn out to be righteous despite the way he lives or the bad example he leaves, he will be sadly mistaken. God still saves by His grace, sometimes despite the neglect of father, but God ordinarily uses the means of an upright father to nurture the seed of the covenant. God will not continue to save in the generations of those parents who neglect their calling before God. God will not continue to gather His church among families whose children are taught only to look good on the outside, without a thought of what they look like to God on the inside. But God does give fruit upon the diligent labors of a man who seeks the hearts of his children. They will be righteous.
And they will be wise. Yes, dad will have taught them the fundamentals of the Scriptures. They will know God’s Word. They will know the great truths of Scripture, because father labored hard with mother to teach them. But that is not what makes believing parents glad. You see, a young person can walk about cocky in his knowledge of what the church teaches and what the Bible teaches, but can still be a fool. A mere knowledge of God’s Word is not enough! A child must grow up to be wise! Wisdom is the key. A father must teach his children to be wise! And wisdom is different than mere knowledge.
Wisdom is the ability to apply that knowledge of God Word to the various circumstances of life. A person is wise when he can take what he has learned and make right judgments, solve spiritual problems in a godly way, and discern between what is God-pleasing and what is not. Fathers, your children have not attained just because they have learned a certain body of knowledge. A child has attained when as he grows he begins to show spiritual discernment. When he is not questioning the ways of the Lord or the Scriptures. When he sees the wisdom of God’s Word and how specifically to apply that Word in all situations. A wise child is one who has been trained properly to distinguish the path of Jehovah from the path the wicked take. And then, with understanding, walk in the way of the Lord. Such is the goal of our instruction and the fruit of an upright father’s prime desire—to win the heart of his children.
III. A Great Rejoicing
When such fruit is evident, then according to verses 24 and 25 it results in joy and gladness. We do not need to define what joy and gladness are. A righteous and wise child make for happy parents. Father and mother, writes Solomon, will be glad. Both will be. The father that begets his children and the mother that gives birth to her children together will be filled with joy of heart. What a beautiful picture of a sound, healthy, spiritual family. The father and his wife who together have conceived and given birth to their children dwelling in a happy home with them. Not only when they are small children, but when they come to years of discretion and years of maturity. There is joy in this kind of a family.
And that joy comes out in the way of rejoicing. Father and mother verbalize that joy. They rejoice together with their children. They rejoice in God. They express to God their praise and thanksgiving for the children they were given by God’s grace. My son, give me your heart!
My father, it’s yours!
Dear Radio Friends,