Wisdom for Family
So far in this series we’ve looked at how the everyday wisdom in the book of Proverbs has its foundation in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. According to Proverbs, ‘7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge… (Prov 1:7a)’ Last week we looked at a wise woman, a woman who doesn’t find her worth in charm or beauty, but ‘30 …who fears the Lord… (Prov 31:30b)’ Today, we’re going to look at what wisdom Proverbs has for families. In Scripture the family is seen as the basic building block of society, which is why Proverbs focuses so much attention on building healthy families. Healthy families start with healthy marriages, which are built on mutual love and friendship. In a healthy family parents model godly behaviour and teach and discipline their children. In a healthy family children respect their parents and heed their instruction and discipline. My prayer for us this morning is that because we fear the Lord we will invest in building healthy families. So let’s take a look at the wisdom that Proverbs has for families.
1) It starts with a healthy marriage
Firstly, a healthy family starts with a healthy marriage. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that single parent families can’t be healthy families, rather what I’m saying is that if there is conflict between the husband and wife it will overflow into the lives of their children. The best thing a parent can do for their children is to invest in their relationship with God, we looked at that in the first sermon. But the second best thing you can do for your kids is investing in your marriage. So what does Proverbs have to say about developing a healthy marriage?
a) The foundation of love
Well firstly, it teaches us that a healthy marriage is built on a foundation of love. And we tend to think of love in the Bible in terms of commitment and faithfulness, which it most definitely is, and we’ll look at that in a moment, but the Book of Proverbs also describes it as a source of great joy and even passion. In chapter 5 we see a father’s advice to his son, and he says, ‘18 …may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. (Prov 5:18b-19)’ The point is that a husband ought to find his joy, his satisfaction, his delight, in his wife. Marriage isn’t meant to be dry and boring as the wedding jokes all make out. It isn’t meant to be a wedding ring followed by suffering, rather it’s mean to be filled with love. A wife is meant to be a source of great joy to her husband. Proverbs says, ‘4 A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown… (Prov 12:4a)’ And ‘22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord. (Prov 18:22)’ A wife is a gift from God. And as we saw last week, a wife adds value to her husband, ‘11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good… all the days of her life. (Prov 31:11-12)’
The book of Proverbs paints a beautifully positive view of marriage from a husbands perspective, but it also describes a husband from a wife’s perspective, as ‘17 …the partner of her youth... (Prov 2:17a)’ The word the NIV translates as partner refers to the closest of friendships. It’s based on the verb to know, and it’s used of someone you know really well. It reflects the level of intimacy that Genesis uses to describe marriage as a man being, ‘24 …united to his wife, and becoming one flesh. 25 …and feeling no shame. (Gen 2:24-25)’ Marriage is portrayed as the closest of friendships.
So I want to begin this morning by asking you husbands if you love your wife? Do you find joy and satisfaction and delight in your wife? Do you see her as a gift from God? Is she your crown? Do you value her above rubies? Do you praise her? And wives do you see your husband as your closest friend? Do you confide in him? Do you enjoy spending time with him? That picture is what biblical marriage ought to be, and I know that our brokenness and sinfulness, and our human pride and selfishness make it a lot less than God intends, but I want to encourage you for the health of your family, and for your own health, to invest in nurturing your love for your spouse.
b) Reinforced by commitment
But if marriage is built on a foundation of love, the reinforcing in that foundation is commitment. Proverbs talks about marriage as a covenant, not just between husband and wife but as a ‘17 …covenant made before God. (Prov 2:17b)’ Unfaithfulness to the marriage vow is presented in the darkest colours. In fact, there are whole chunks of Proverbs that deal specifically with adultery and unfaithfulness in marriage (2:16-19; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27; 22:14). Wisdom is for a husband to invest in his wife, because committing adultery is like ‘27 …scooping fire into your lap… (Prov 6:27a)’ There’s a dramatic image for you. Chapter 5 is all about being aware of the dangers of adultery. It says, ‘15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. 16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? 17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. (Prov 5:15-17)’ The point is that whatever you do, stay committed to your marriage.
c) Built up by positive words
And if the foundation is love reinforced by commitment then you build a healthy marriage by positive words. Last week we saw how a husband is to bless his wife and praise her, but a wife is also to encourage her husband in how she speaks to him. And we see that by how Proverbs condemns negative speech. And for some reason it is always aimed at wives! I’m not sure why that is… actually I do, it’s because Proverbs is primarily written to men rather than women. But it’s almost comical in its descriptions. For example, ‘13 …a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping. (Prov 19:13b)’ And again, ‘15 A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day. (Prov 27:15)’ Living with a quarrelsome wife is like a form of Chinese water torture, drip, drip, drip, it has the tendency to drive you insane. But Proverbs suggests a good solution. It’s ‘9 Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (Prov 21:9; 25:24)’ Notice it puts that one in twice. And if living on the roof doesn’t help it’s, ‘19 Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife. (Prov 21:19)’
No, I’m not suggesting you move to Alice Springs to get away from your wife, but I do want to ask: how do you speak to your spouse? Husbands do you bless your wife with your words? Do you praise her for what she does for you and your family? Do you tell her how much you appreciate her? And wives how do you speak to your husbands? Do you nag your husband, are you argumentative, are you ill-tempered, do you bring him grief, or provoke him to anger? How you speak to your spouse can have a huge impact on the health of your marriage and the health of your family. In fact next week we’re going to focus on the power of our words to build up or tear down.
How healthy is your marriage? On a scale of 1 to 10 where would you rate it? How healthy is your love for one another? How committed are you to one another? How well do you speak to one another? A healthy family starts with a healthy marriage, built with positive words on a foundation of love, reinforced by commitment.
2) It requires guidance
A healthy family starts with a healthy marriage, but it certainly doesn’t end there. A healthy family requires parents to guide their children. Parents can’t be passive when it comes to parenting. The book of Proverbs talks about two ways that parents guide their children.
The first is by teaching them. In fact, this is pretty much the whole idea behind the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is pretty much a father teaching his son. Of the 17 discourses in the first 9 chapters over two-thirds of them start, ‘My son…’ ‘My son, accept my words… (2:1)’ ‘My son, do not forget my teaching… (3:1)’ ‘Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction… (4:1)’ ‘My son, pay attention to my wisdom… (5:1)’ ‘My son, keep my words… (7:1)’ Sons are addressed nearly 50 times throughout the book of Proverbs. The whole point of Proverbs is how fathers need to pass on wisdom to their sons.
But there are a few verses that make it clear that the responsibility of teaching the next generation belongs to both parents. For example ‘8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (Prov 1:8; 6:20)’ The role of parents is to teach their children, which is exactly what God commanded parents to do. When God first gave the laws he commands parents to, ‘7 Impress them on your children. (Dt 6:7a)’ So what sort of things should parents pass on to their children? There are two, out of which everything else flows.
i) To Fear the Lord
Firstly, you need to pass on your faith, the fear of the Lord. In Proverbs 24 the father says, ‘21 Fear the Lord… my son, and do not join with the rebellious. (Prov 24:21)’ Like we saw two weeks ago ‘7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge… (Prov 1:7a)’ Unless your kids have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ then everything else you might teach them is meaningless. Sure they might get a good job, they might find a good spouse, they might be successful in every area of their lives, but it they don’t honour God, they are fools. I wish I could say that in a more politically correct way, but that’s how the book of Proverbs puts it. Parents you need to teach your children the fear of the Lord.
ii) To Obey God’s law
Secondly, you need to teach your children what it means to follow Jesus, you need to teach them to obey God’s law, or his will. Proverbs says, ‘7 He who keeps the law is a discerning son… (Prov 28:7a)’ If you want wise children you need to teach them what it means to not only fear the Lord, but to obey him. Again, that’s pretty much what the whole book of Proverbs is about, teaching children what it means to live in a way that honours God. Your kids will be discerning when they can tell wrong from right. Discernment is being able to say ‘I don’t care if everyone else is doing it, it’s not right!’ Parents you need to teach your children to do what is right in God’s eyes, and the book of Proverbs is a pretty good place to start.
iii) By Example
But you also teach your kids by being an example for them to follow. Proverbs 20:7 says, ‘7 The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him. (Prov 20:7)’ Your kids are blessed when you give them a godly example to follow. And that’s why it’s so important that parents work on their relationship with God and one another, otherwise you end up telling your kids to do what you say not what you do. As parents our task is to teach our children to fear the Lord, to obey his will and we do that as much by our example as by our words.
So before we move on to our next point, I want to ask you how you are going in this area? What things are you doing to teach your children about fearing the Lord, and living a life that honours him? On a continuum, do you teach more by your words then your actions? Often as Christians we can expect the church to teach our children, but ultimately, according to the Bible, it’s the responsibility of parents to teach their kids.
So the first way to guide our kids into wisdom is by teaching them, both by our words and our example, to fear the Lord and obey his will. The second way is through discipline. Now we often think of this as the negative side of teaching, but in the book of Proverbs discipline is seen in a very positive light. You discipline your children because you love them and want what’s best for them. Listen to these verses: ‘24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (Prov 13:24)’ ‘18 Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death. (Prov 19:18)’ ‘13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. 14 Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death. (Prov 23:13-14)’ I just want to say three things about discipline that flow from these verses.
i) We discipline out of love
Firstly, the point of all these verses is that we discipline our children because we love them. Discipline is unbiblical when it is motivated by our anger rather than our kids’ wellbeing. Proverbs 29 says, ‘11 A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Prov 29:11)’ Jeremy is going to be talking about how to control our anger in four weeks time. Discipline needs to be motivated by love, not by anger.
ii) We discipline to guide them to God
Secondly, we discipline our children in order to guide them to God. Discipline isn’t just behavioural management. As parents we need to be careful that we don’t just teach our children about doing the right thing, because they can do the right things and still end up in the wrong place. Our goal as parents should ultimately be to see our children come to a saving knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. We discipline our children because we want to save them from a lifestyle that will ultimately lead to death. And when I say death, I’m not just talking about the results of a destructive lifestyle, but the results of a life lived apart from faith in Jesus Christ. As parents we need to guide our children’s heart towards God. If you want to read a great book about this, I would recommend Tedd Tripp’s book, ‘Shepherding a Child’s Heart.’
iii) How you discipline is up to you
Thirdly, how you discipline is up to you. Proverbs talks about the rod, but it isn’t suggesting that the only way to discipline your child is by smacking them. If you want to read some good advice on how to discipline your children I would suggest anything written by Dr James Dobson. He talks about different disciplining methods for different personality types and different developmental stages. His point is that there is no one size fits all approach. But one thing is consistent: the need to discipline our children one way or another.
iv) God disciplines of us should be our guide
One more thing I would like to say is that we should use how God disciplines us as a guide for disciplining our children. The New Testament says, ‘10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 …[discipline] produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:10,11b, cf. Prov 3:12)’ God disciplines us because he loves us, because he wants ‘our good.’ God disciplines us so that we may share in his holiness, that we might become righteous and experience peace. And God uses different ways to discipline us, sometimes through his word, sometimes through our consciences, sometimes through hardships and painful experiences.
I want to ask you parents this morning: how well do you discipline your kids? Do you discipline them out of love, or anger? Do you discipline them to change their behaviour or their hearts? Do you disciple your kids in a way that honours God?
c) No Guarantees
Before we go to our last point I just want to make it clear that there are no guarantees that your kids will turn out how you would like them to. Probably one of the most famous proverbs regarding parenting is Proverbs 22:6, ‘6 Train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. (Prov 22:6)’ It’s so important to remember that proverbs like this are generalisations, not universal truths. Generally this is true, but not always. The book of Proverbs contains many reminders that even the best training and the most loving discipline can’t instil wisdom, it can only encourage the choice to seek it. According to Proverbs some children despise their parents (15:20), mock their parents (30:17), and even curse their parents (30:11; 20:20). Some kids rob their parents (28:24), and even throw their widowed mothers onto the street (19:26). Sometimes that’s because we don’t teach or discipline our kids (29:15), but ultimately our children are responsible for their own decisions in life.
3) It results in respect
And because there are no guarantees I want to finish by speaking directly to the children. Children you also have a role in producing healthy families. There are three things that I want to tell the kids here this morning.
a) The call to respect
Firstly, you are called to respect your parents. This idea is so important to God that he put it in the 10 Commandments, ‘12 Honour your father and your mother… (Ex 20:12a)’ And in the book of Proverbs some of the harshest words are reserved for those who don’t respect their parents. Proverbs 30 says, ‘17 The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures. (Prov 30:17)’ I was thinking of doing up a kid’s sheet and getting you to draw a picture of a bird pecking out your eye, but I didn’t want to give you nightmares. The point is that God takes disrespecting your parents seriously. So don’t disrespect your parents, just remember the whole pecking thing. It’s so gruesome, I love it!
b) The choice
Secondly, you kids have a choice to make. You can either listen to your parents or you can ignore them, the choice is up to you. Over and over in the book of Proverbs children are encouraged to listen to their parents. For example, ‘19 Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. (Prov 23:19)’ If you want to be wise then listen to your parents, they know more than you think. On the flip side, over and over the book of Proverbs warns children about ignoring their parents. For example, ‘1 A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke. (Prov 13:1)’ You have a choice to listen to your parents and be wise, or ignore them. So kids’ what’s it going to be? Are you going to listen to your parents? Are you going to heed their correction? Or will you ignore them?
c) The result
The third thing I want to say to you kids this morning is that your choice has consequences.
Firstly, let’s look at the positive consequences. When you listen to your parents you bring them great joy. The father in Proverbs says, ‘15 My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; 16 my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right. 24 The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. (Prov 23:15-16,24)’ When you choose to do what is right you make your parents proud.
But when you ignore your parents teaching there are negative consequences. Proverbs says, ‘25 A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him. (Prov 17:25)’And later, ‘13 A foolish son is his father’s ruin… (Prov 19:13a)’ When you turn your back on your parents it brings them great pain and grief. There is nothing more painful in life than watching your kids make the wrong choices, and sometimes those choices have terrible consequences in this life and in the life to come. Kid’s listen to your parents, don’t ignore them, because they want what is best for you, they want you to know God’s love for you in Jesus Christ, they want you to make choices that will bring you joy and peace.
Families are God’s idea. God loves families and he wants you to have a healthy family. And to have a healthy family you need to have a healthy marriage so husbands love your wife and wives love your husband, stay committed to each other, and watch how you speak to one another, not negatively, but to encourage and build each other up. And parents teach and discipline your children, not because it guarantees they will turn out okay, but because it’s your task, because you love them and want what’s best for them. Teach them to fear the Lord and obey his will, teach them by example, and don’t be afraid to discipline them. And kids respect your parents, listen to their teaching, heed their discipline and you will not only bring them joy but you’ll find wisdom in the process. May God bless you and your families. Amen.