The following is an excerpted chapter from our book on raising children, Principle-Centered Parenting: Christian Parenting in a Non-Christian World.
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat; therefore do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do for they do not practice what they teach (Matthew 23:2-3 NRS).
Parenting and building a godly family require more than making the home a haven or simply understanding the divine ladder of relationship priorities. If children are to feel a connection to God and become godly themselves they will need to see it modeled.
As noted before although there are numerous parenting principles in God s word there is still far more material in the Bible on marriage (and adult relationships) than on parenting (and childhood issues). Considering how important the parenting enterprise is one wonders whether the lack of explicit "parenting material" in the scriptures points to a more significant reality. Since children learn largely by observing demonstrating the kind of people we should be may be the best tutorial we can ever give them. Didn t Jesus himself have a similar emphasis in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)? This collection of sayings focuses on what we are more than on what we do. No lecture speaks as loudly as a consistent life lived in accordance with God s word. In short we must model it!
Joash & Jehoiada: The Power of a Guardian
You may feel at a loss when it comes to modeling especially if you are parenting alone. Perhaps you are a widow or widower. You may be divorced or were never married. Maybe you are separated from your spouse for the time being or are an adoptive parent experiencing difficulties with your adopted child. Perhaps your spouse is disinterested in the children or expects you to do all the work. Or maybe you are a guardian like Jehoiada the shining star in the story below. Whatever your situation the principles of the Bible apply to you even if you re not raising a child in the context of marriage.
Yes the good news is that there is hope! You can do something to shape your child s character. Do not underestimate the power of a godly life lived in view of a child. To illustrate let s turn our attention to the eighth century BC boy-king Joash. He lost his father Ahaziah when the zealous Jehu assassinated him. While his siblings were being executed by Ahaziah s mother who was greedy for power his half-sister hid him until the strategic time.
Now when Athaliah Ahaziah s mother saw that her son was dead she set about to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah. Jehosheba the daughter of King Jehoram took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Because Jehosheba the daughter of King Jehoram and wife of the priest Jehoiada was Ahaziah s sister she hid the child from Athaliah so that she could not kill him. He remained hidden with them at the temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land (2 Chronicles 22:11-12 NIV).
Athaliah was the grandmother of Joash. She was a wicked woman but a strong leader and she seized control of the southern kingdom of Judah and ruled it for six years. Jehoiada the elderly1 guardian of Joash knew that the ungodly Athaliah was ruining the nation and he had the nerve to depose her once the time was right. Here follows the account of one of the many coups d état of the Bible:
In the seventh year Jehoiada showed his strength. He made a covenant with the commanders; the whole assembly made a covenant with the king at the temple of God. Jehoiada said to them "The king s son shall reign as the LORD promised concerning the descendants of David." He stationed all the men each with his weapon in his hand round the king -- near the altar and the temple from the south side to the north side of the temple. Jehoiada and his sons brought out the king s son and put the crown on him; they presented him with a copy of the covenant and proclaimed him king. They anointed him and shouted "Long live the king!"
When Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and cheering the king she went to them at the temple of the LORD. She looked and there was the king standing by his pillar at the entrance. The officers and the trumpeters were beside the king and all the people of the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets and singers with musical instruments were leading the praises. Then Athaliah tore her robes and shouted "Treason! Treason!"
Jehoiada the priest sent out the commanders of units of a hundred who were in charge of the troops and said to them: "Bring her out between the ranks and put to the sword anyone who follows her." For the priest had said "Do not put her to death at the temple of the LORD." So they seized her as she reached the entrance of the Horse Gate on the palace grounds and there they put her to death.
Jehoiada then made a covenant that he and the people and the king would be the LORD s people. All the people went to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars and idols and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of the altars. Then Jehoiada placed the oversight of the temple of the LORD in the hands of the priests who were Levites to whom David had made assignments in the temple to present the burnt offerings of the LORD as written in the Law of Moses with rejoicing and singing as David had ordered. He brought the king down from the temple of the LORD. They went into the palace through the Upper Gate and seated the king on the royal throne and all the people of the land rejoiced. And the city was quiet because Athaliah had been slain with the sword (2 Chronicles 23:1-21 NIV).
We continue the story as Joash is now king.
Joash was seven years old when he became king and he reigned in Jerusalem for forty years. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years of Jehoiada the priest. Some time later Joash decided to restore the temple of the LORD. He called together the priests and Levites and said to them "Go to the towns of Judah and collect the money due annually from all Israel to repair the temple of your God. Do it now." But the Levites did not act at once. Therefore the king summoned Jehoiada the chief priest and said to him "Why haven t you required the Levites to bring in from Judah and Jerusalem the tax imposed by Moses the servant of the LORD and by the assembly of Israel for the Tent of the Testimony?" The men in charge of the work were diligent and the repairs progressed under them. They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design and reinforced it.
The boy-king began his forty year reign well. After some time he restored the lapsed Temple and even challenged his guardian Jehoiada to expect more of the priests and Levites! So far so good.
As long as Jehoiada lived burnt offerings were presented continually in the temple of the LORD. Now Jehoiada was old and full of years and he died at the age of a hundred and thirty. He was buried with the kings in the City of David because of the good he had done in Israel for God and his temple. After the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king and he listened to them. They abandoned the temple of the LORD the God of their fathers and worshipped Asherah poles and idols. Because of their guilt God s anger came upon Judah and Jerusalem. Although the LORD sent prophets to the people to bring them back to him and though they testified against them they would not listen. Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said This is what God says: "Why do you disobey the LORD s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the LORD he has forsaken you." But they plotted against him and by order of the king they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the LORD s temple. King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son who said as he lay dying "May the LORD see this and call you to account" (2 Chronicles 24:1-22 NIV).
When Jehoiada dies and his spiritual influence no longer shapes Joash the boy-king quickly declines. He even has Jehoiada s son Zechariah (not the minor prophet but a different person) executed for challenging his sin. As a result the Lord does call him to account in accordance with the words of the dying Zechariah.
At the turn of the year the army of Aram marched against Joash; it invaded Judah and Jerusalem and killed all the leaders of the people. Although the Aramean army had come with only a few men the LORD delivered into their hands a much larger army. Because Judah had forsaken the LORD the God of their fathers judgment was executed on Joash. When the Arameans withdrew they left Joash severely wounded. His officials conspired against him for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest and they killed him in his bed. So he died and was buried in the City of David but not in the tombs of the kings.
What a tragic ending! What does this story illustrate? What are the lessons we can glean for our own parenting?
* When children are young they need a guardian a parent or other adult role model to both protect and influence them.
* Joash grew in conviction and took a stand under the influence of a man of God. He was not sentimental regarding his grandmother but followed the law of the Lord despite the inherent risks.
* Even though Jehoiada and his wife were not legally his parents they served in this capacity protecting and bringing him up in the instruction of the Lord. God worked through the situation even though not within the context of a standard nuclear family.
* Despite the historic tendency for the temple worship to become compromised and corrupt Jehoiada was still supportive of God s plan and his positive disposition seems to have rubbed off on Joash. In the same way no Christian congregation is perfect; even the best has its share of problems. It would have been easy for Jehoiada to become disillusioned and for apathy disconnection or cynicism to have turned the young Joash against "church things" altogether.
* Jehoiada s willingness to serve as a guardian for Jehoash led to a spiritual revival in Judah (even if short-lived). Don t sell yourself short. Kindness and spirituality will affect a child significantly and through that child many many others.
* There is no favoritism with God. For all the good of his earlier years Joash s apostasy nullified his good record. (The entire chapter of Ezekiel 18 speaks to this situation.)
* Despite the sustained positive spiritual influence of the guardian (Jehoiada) Joash as an adult forsook the Lord. This seems to be an exception to the general truth of Proverbs 22:6.
Further Biblical Principles
Jehoiada is far from the only example of a guardian in the Bible. There is Mordecai who brought up Esther and through her saved the Israelites from destruction (Esther 1-10). Or take the mentoring influence of Elijah on Elisha (1-2 Kings) or Paul s well known and fatherly relationship with Timothy whose father was not a Christian (Acts 16 1 Corinthians 4:17 1-2 Timothy). The list goes on!
We close the chapter with a few more principles related to parental modeling. Please think about them and ask how they come into play in your own role as a mother or father.
* Consistency is paramount and children expect it in parents. A parent or guardian who claims to be following Christ but is not exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit is an impediment to that child s decision for Christ. Kids grow resentful when they sense hypocrisy or double-standards. For further study see Romans 2:1-3 Matthew 7:1-5 Matthew 23 Mark 7:6-8 Luke 6:40-42 Galatians 2:13 James 3:17 and 1 Peter 2:1.
* Modeling does not work only by behavior. Words are important too. Ephesians 6:4 reads "And now a word to you fathers. Don t make your children angry by the way you treat them. Rather bring them up with the discipline and instruction approved by the Lord" (NLT). We are to actively talk about God s word with our children (Deuteronomy 6:7). Words alone are not enough but then neither are actions alone sufficient.
* According to Proverbs 22:6 the training we give to our progeny tends to stay with them. While this verse is only a generalization it is still a valid observation of the usual linkage between godly instruction and future faithfulness. (For further discussion on whether this verse is meant to be interpreted absolutely and without exceptions see chapter 13 and especially the endnotes.)
* In terms of guidance try to strike a balance. While discipline is important if we are too hard on the children they will lose heart. Fathers do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged we read in Colossians 3:21 (NIV). The NAS reads "do not exasperate your children"; the NKJV "do not provoke" them.
* We need to model respect if we expect our children to be respectful to us and others. So many adults in our society speak and act disrespectfully towards others: family members the government seniors children those from other cultures etc. We live in an increasingly disrespectful society and if we will only model respect our children will shine like stars in contrast to all the darkness and negativity around them.
* Your spiritual influence -- for good or for bad -- is significant. Don t think that only the influences of outsiders will affect your children (1 Corinthians 15:33). We are all affected in one way or another by those we spend time with and nowhere is this truer than in the case of one s own family members.
* And yet the influence of parents does not work mechanically or fatalistically. Ezekiel 18:14-17 NRS reads "If this wicked man has a son who sees all the sins that his father has done considers and does not do likewise; he will surely live." Modeling provides a general prediction of how the children will "turn out." It does not absolutely guarantee anything. "The acorn does not fall far from the tree " it is often said and Like father like son." It is certain that all children become like their parents at least in some ways. But every individual is different and makes individual choices. Your children are not destined to become one particular sort of person based on genetics church situation culture or even your own spirituality despite the correlations. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can beat the odds.
* Be careful about dealing with your issues (church issues especially) in front of the children. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29 NIV). If this is true of our speech in the presence of other adults how much more does it apply to our children. They are affected by our spirituality (or lack of it) and pick up on the words and tone we use to talk about "church stuff." The kids may be more perceptive than we think. So if we must talk about sensitive matters let s be discreet remembering the warning of the Lord in Luke 17:1-3a: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come but woe to him through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied round his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves" (NIV).
* One more principle comes from 2 Timothy 2:23-26: "Don t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone able to teach not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil who has taken them captive to do his will" (NIV). When we instruct our children we must watch ourselves lest we become impatient or resentful (if the children are resisting our input). It is ultimately up to God to move in the hearts of our children both during the few years we have them in our care and afterwards.
Certainly we do not want to be like the religious leaders Jesus excoriated in Matthew 23. They did not practice what they preached. Through words and actions - godly words and godly actions --we have the opportunity of a lifetime to influence the young "Joashes" the Lord has put in our care. Let s model what we believe and let s practice what we preach.
This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. © 2005. Reprints or public distribution is prohibited without the express consent of Douglas Jacoby.