Do We Truly Seek to Love Our Children?
Love … does not seek its own. 1 Corinthians 13:4, 5NKJV
Question 130 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins of superiors?” It gives the answer, “The sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them, an inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure, commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; counselling, encouraging, or favouring them in that which is evil; dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing them in that which is good; correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonouring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behaviour.” Last time, we saw how those in offices of authority must love those who are subject to them. Today, we consider the nature of that love: that it must be defined by the Word of God.
What is love? Since authorities must love those who are subject to them, what does love look like in the most fundamental relationship there can be between “superiors” and “inferiors” – that relationship of parents to their children? Today, we answer this question by pointing out to parents what love IS NOT. Parents, your love for your children cannot be self-motivated. That is, if you seek for your children to excel, even in things good and virtuous, but if you do so out of a desire to, benefit from or share in the praise of their excelling, to that degree you are not loving your children, but yourself. On the other hand, whenever you cannot be bothered to promote the excelling of your children, you sin against them in favor of seeking your own “ease, profit, or pleasure.” Thus, to discipline our children when they are merely “bothering” us, but not actually doing anything wrong, is selfish and sinful. So also, to not discipline them because it would be too much of a bother to us, when they are doing something wrong, is selfish and sinful. If we truly love our children, we will seek to see them grow in what God’s Word says is good for them, without consideration of what we will get out of it or what it might cost us. Love for someone seeks that person’s true good. Thus, parents seeking their children’s true good will praise, instruct, correct, discipline, and model an example which will promote obedience to God’s commandments in their children, for that is their true and ultimate good.
If we would only keep as the ultimate goal of our instruction the good (as God defines it) of our children, we would never, by word or behavior, encourage toward any evil or discourage from any good. Now, few parents explicitly encourage their children to do evil. That is, few if any actually teach or consciously model for them how to steal, or to lie, or to be proud, violent, lustful, or whatever. But we do encourage evil implicitly when we, not believing what the Bible says is good for our children, do not pursue this goodness in all of our interaction with them. Pursuing this goodness would keep parents faithful in praising their children when they do well. And, when they did evil, it would ensure loving and godly correction. If their true good were our greatest goal, we would believe God’s Word and actively show them love. True love is not known by how it feels, but by how it obeys the Word of God. Thus, the Scripture says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Prov. 13:24). I have never known anyone to withhold spanking from their children out of feelings of malice and hatred for them. However, when parents do not discipline their children for doing evil, they are showing the worst kind of hatred for their children, regardless of how they feel. They are actually encouraging and strengthening their children in a love for and practice of doing evil.
We have great power as parents. God has given our children to us. He has given us the means and the instruction to encourage them toward what is good and discourage them from what is evil. No one can save their children by parenting, and, apart from the grace of our sovereign God, even perfect parenting could have no impact on them whatsoever. Yet, if we trust God for our children’s welfare, we will believe and obey His Word in our parenting. We will expend the effort spiritually, physically, and emotionally in order to promote their good and discourage their evil behavior. If we love God, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). And if we love our children, we will use our authority to seek the same for them. May God grant that we would truly love our children!