Very soon after the blessing of becoming a father, I came to realize how much there is to learn from children. I would like to share some of my findings.
Observing our premature baby, my wife and I were struck by his persistence in working his tiny legs free of his blanket. Premature children are pre-disposed to hip problems and as a preventative measure must initially be firmly wrapped. In the first days of life, this little individual demonstrated the human tendency to throw off impeding restrictions. On a spiritual level, we reject the laws that our Heavenly Father instituted for our good because we are more comfortable doing our own thing.
Persistence may not be the first thing we think about as a necessary requisite for life in the truth, where the focus is on belief, trust and living a Christ-like life. It takes a large degree of persistence, however, to continue in the things we have learned. Current society is so media-driven and image soaked, that every single minute we are bombarded with things that are ungodly.
At school, young children are taught about alternative lifestyles, tolerance of unwholesome behavior, and the philosophy of doing what they and others feel is right. It is therefore of vital importance that parents, including the extended ecclesial family, persist in vigorously combating these false ideologies, replacing them with sound Bible teaching.
Persistence in praying for guidance, selection of friends, education, and occupation, is needed not only for ourselves, but also for the effect on the children. They are like little sponges, soaking up everything around them.
The world can infiltrate and influence our daily lives so easily. The only way to combat this evil is to wrap ourselves in the protective cloak of God’s word and become involved in the activities of the ecclesial family.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I Jn. 2:15-17).
Whereas persistence in well doing is good, the trait of stubbornness is far from positive. Parents of a two year-old are constantly aware that the child is frustratingly stubborn at times. It is part of the learning experience and the quest for independence. Usually with guidance, patience and love, the problem lessens but in some cases, the child’s negative behavior grows and becomes a part of its adult personality.
Stubbornness, rebellion and refusal to be guided by godly parents in the ways of the Lord called for extreme measures under the Law: “And they shall say unto the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so thou shalt put evil away from among you: and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Deut. 21:20).
Thankfully, such behavior is not usually part of the ecclesial scene; nevertheless, stubbornness can surface when individuals persist in demanding to have things done their way.
As children grow and mature, their dependence upon their parents lessens. In a healthy family environment, there is an interdependent relationship. There is give and take, each member being allowed space to grow and develop, while looking out for the needs of the others. Similarly, this is the pattern of the ecclesial family. Collectively we worship, but each member must grow and develop spiritually. The delicate balance can be upset when brethren and sisters insist on acting independently. Too much independence leads to a lack of cohesion and purpose.
Of course, there are always those who, due to circumstances beyond their control, are dependent upon others. It gives those who are unimpeded by problems an opportunity to serve. For example: being part of a car pool, taking those who cannot drive to and from the meeting; looking after children to enable a busy young mother to keep a doctor’s appointment; visiting the sick or someone who is lonely. The opportunities are endless.
The downside is that dependence upon others can be demoralizing. One way of alleviating the situation is by gentle encouragement and helping the dependent person to be involved by contributing to the welfare of the ecclesia. Some examples are keeping in touch with a housebound person by telephone, helping with outreach projects by mail, and writing poems or thoughtful articles. These things do not require a lot of activity outside the home, but can do much to foster a sense of worth and of being needed. All of us must work together and have respect for the abilities of others: “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works…” (Heb. 10:24). Another passage pertinent to our discussion: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…” (Phil. 2:14-15 NIV).
Little children require unlimited patience from their caregivers. An understanding of growth and development certainly helps with the cultivation of this virtue. Likewise, in the ecclesial setting, it is essential to know our brothers and sisters to better appreciate and understand them. Awareness of problems and difficulties makes it easier to be patient and tolerant.
Patience is a quality mentioned by the apostle Paul as he advises the early Christians: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men…And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient…” (I Thess. 5:14; II Tim. 2:24).
Love and Forgiveness
Forgiveness is part of the daily menu when dealing with children. In the case of the toddler who is reprimanded, the little one will often turn to the chastising, but loving, caregiver, for comfort and forgiveness. The child needs to be reassured that regardless of a misdemeanor, love and acceptance are ever present.
From the abundance of scriptural passages on the subject of forgiveness, the same comfort can be ours. Psalm 78, after referring to the stubborn, stiffnecked, children of Israel, says that God: “Being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not…” (v. 38). Lovingkindness and forgiveness is part of the wonderful character of our Heavenly Father: “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee” (Ps. 86:5).
The extent of the Lord’s love is demonstrated in the provision of His beloved Son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world: but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16).
To witness the suffering of a beloved child is a horrendous experience. Parents will do everything in their power to prevent or alleviate harm to their loved ones. Knowing this helps to put into perspective the selfless love of God; He gave up His well-loved Son to the ignominious and cruel death by crucifixion.
Having considered the various ways we can all learn from the behavior of children let us now focus our attention on the Son of God.
After the incident where Joseph and Mary found Jesus at the age of 12 discussing difficult issues with scholars in the temple, it is recorded: “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them…and Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Lk. 2:51-52). From a tender age, Jesus obediently prepared himself to fulfill the will of his Father. It is due to the outworking of that will that we are here this morning. In the simple emblems of bread and wine we are reminded of the work of both Father and Son. In the bread, we see the body given as the perfect sacrifice for sinners, and in the wine, the blood that sealed the covenant made so long ago with Abraham.
Whether as individual families or as the extended family of the ecclesia, it is a blessing to nurture children in the admonition of the Lord, for in so doing, we also grow.