Parents, Are you stealing from your children?

As I was preparing this week’s Family Worship Guide for family devotions, I came across this quote in connection with the 8th commandment, “You shall not steal.”

Let parents undertake to nourish, govern, and teach, their children committed to them by God, not provoking their minds with cruelty or turning them against their parents; but cherishing and embracing their children with such gentleness and kindness as becomes their character as parents.

John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion II.viii.46

How does this fit in with the 8th commandment? Legalism takes one of two basic forms. The first, more easily recognizable, looks to the letter of the law as it written for righteousness: I can despise my brother, but as long as I do not end his life I am obeying the law. The second, more pernicious, looks to what is not written in the law for righteousness: the child who sneaks a piece of pie after his parent has told him he cannot have cake, ice cream, candy, or cookies. One of the inherent shortcomings of law-as evidenced by the continued existence of Congress-is that one can never write enough laws to cover the misdeeds of man’s sinful nature. New laws are always needed because man is so prone to this second type of legalism: if there is no explicit law against something it must be allowed.

So as we consider the 8th commandment, we must seek the full-orbed perspective that Jesus taught concerning the Law in Matthew 5. To steal something is not only to take something that belongs to someone else. We steal when we withhold something that is rightly due to another (Prov. 3:27; Mal. 3:8; Rom. 13:17; Gal. 6:10; James 5:4). So Calvin says, “Finally, let each one see to what extent he is in duty bound to others, and let him pay his debt faithfully.”

Government owes its citizens protection and justice.

Citizens owe their government obedience and taxes.

Pastors owe their congregations faithful preaching and care.

Congregations owe their pastors honor and provision.

Children owe their parents obedience and honor.

Parents owe their children.

Parents owe their children instruction in the word of God (Deut. 6:6-9; 11:19; Ps. 78:4-7; Eph. 6:4). Parent, what are you doing to faithfully teach your child the fear of the Lord? What are you doing to faithfully instruct your child in the knowledge of Scripture? How are you raising your child to live in obedience to the Lord? All of these things and more you owe to your child.

God is our gracious heavenly Father. Paul writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The apostle painfully, yet joyfully, experienced the Lord’s words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Sometimes it just seems like too much. Who am I to teach my child in the ways of God? How can I expect to be heard by my child when I fail so often? How can I model sensitivity to the Lord when I am so hard toward my child? How am I to start family devotions when I have so long neglected them? You are in just the right place: burdened by your sin.

You cannot. And if you try, you will fail. But in the power of the Holy Spirit, strengthened by God’s grace, cleansed by Christ’s blood, you are able to accomplish God’s will. God commands parents not to steal from their children. As a good Father he gives His children the ability and means to obey His command.

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