How the Gospel Applies When Children Confront Their Parents

Saturday, July 08, 2006

In a previous post a couple of weeks ago on Gospel Parenting: How the Gospel Applies to Tattle-Telling I made the point that when a sibling tattle-tells on another sibling, the sin of the one brings the sin of the other into the light of grace. This is undoubtedly the mercy of God and we are to teach the child who is caught to appreciate it and love God for it, and we are to teach the tattle-teller that bearing tales is a sin. But another question comes to mind which needs some attention. And it is a question I do not readily have an answer for. But here is the question and a few thoughts to serve as a primer.

First the question: How does the gospel apply to us as parents when our children sinfully confront us with our own sin? Has this happened to you before? You are confronting your child for their sin, dealing graciously with them of course, and in the midst of the encounter your child reacts sinfully by pointing out your own sin in that same age-old attempt to blameshift. Many times the reaction is not only sinfully motivated, but also sinfully stated; it may simply not be true of us. But what about those times when it is true of us? What are we to do when they "pop off at the mouth" and speak the truth?

Now for the considerations.

Applying Ephesians 6:1-4 as the Foundation

There is a parent/child distinction that must be maintained, and I think Ephesians 6:1-4 may speak to such an encounter. On the one hand, we are the parent, and they are the child. Their obligation according to Scripture is to honor us and obey us (vv. 1-3). We cannot allow such an encounter to pass without recognizing that truth. Usually, a child's accusation against us is motivated by a sinful desire to shift the focus from their own sin to their parents. That sinful motivation must be dealt with by shepherding their heart. And that sinful communication must also be dealt with as dishonoring.

On the other hand, we as the parent are not to deal with our children harshly so as to exasperate them to anger. It is far too easy to commit this sin against them in return for theirs against us. The react to us and we react to them. The fact that we are the parent and that we are more mature necessitates that reactions immediately cease and that the model of love continues to be set before everyone. Proverbs 26:4 teaches not to answer foolishness with foolishness or else we will be as foolish as our children. Rather, as verse 5 says, we are to answer them according to their folly, or as their folly deserves to be addressed, so that they will not consider themselves wiser than their parents.

So presuming we deal with them properly using these biblical precedents, how do we respond to their accusation of truth? Understand up front that I am presupposing the very same truth I purported in the last post. God will use my child's sin to point out my own. And the humility that I teach my kids to have, I am to have also and model for them. That is a non-negotiable in the gospel, isn't it?

So assuming that is true, in what order do we handle these issues, and how do we make the transition from the one to the other? In other words, do I handle their accusation first and then counsel them afterwards on the way and words they used to bring my sin to my attention? Or do I reprove them first for their sinful presentation and then acknowlege and confess my own sin? And regardless of which order I choose, how do I make the transition smoothly so as to show them connected in and to the gospel which should guide our dealings with each other?

That's a tough one. I'm short on wisdom there. Based on previous encounters here are my thoughts right now. What comes to mind first is again humility. I'm thinking that when humility guides the way I handle the accusation, we both will be more guarded from our respective self-righteousness. That said, there is a text which seems to provide some example for us as parents in such an encounter with our children.

David and Shimei as an Example for Parent and Child

The text is 2 Samuel 16:5 and following, and it applies on a greater scale to someone in authority responds to someone without authority when the latter brings a rebuke or reproof to the older. On a road trip one day David comes across a man named Shimei who came out to meet David, "and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left." Then Shimei said to him, "Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul..."

Remember Abishai's response? "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off hs head" (v. 9). Think Shimei's accusation was true before Abishai said this? Absolutely. And Abishai's response shows that it was still true of David. David was undoubtedly a man of blood. And this truth is what caused David's humble response to Abishai's question. "What have I to do with you, sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, 'Curse David,' who then shall say, 'Why have you done so?" (v. 10). As if this response of David wasn't amazing enough, he continues further. "Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjamite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to" (v. 11).

Now, as one who believes in the continuance of prophecy, I might consider Shimei's words to David as prophetic, though he didn't realize it at the time. David recognized that Shimei's words were from the Lord. But the method of Shimei's reproof was not the godliest example of how to bring a rebuke! If the Lord uses a donkey to speak the truth to Balaam, and if He uses a cursing old man to rebuke a King, can He not also use our children to speak to us dishonorably with the truth? And since He does, will we not also respond with the humility and recognition of God's sovereign as did David?

Paul and the High Priest as an Example

Another example that comes to mind showing the relationship between one under authority and how he reproves someone in authority is Paul and the High Priest. This account is found in Acts 23: 1 and following. Beginning in verse 1, Paul begins his defense before the council, "Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day." Now, commentators are not exactly sure why this comment warranted happened next.

"And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth" (v. 2). Perhaps Paul didn't offer a flattering salutation that the high priest might have usually been accustomed to. Or perhaps the high priest thought Paul was being awfully bold, too bold in fact, for one who stood before him as a criminal. Regardless of the reason, Paul's response was right...yet strangely wrong at the same time. "Then Paul said to him, 'God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!' Those who stood by said, 'Would you revile God's high priest?' And Paul said, 'I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, "You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people".'" (vv. 4-5).

There was nothing wrong with Paul's introduction. And he should not have been slapped. And his rebuke was warranted, for the high priest commanded him to be slapped against the law, it appears. But the fact was, in rebuke the high priest he was dishonoring one in authority and herein was the mistake. Yet his response was the same as David's: an acknowledgment that the truth was spoken and a humility that accepted the consequences.

The conclusion from this example is the same as in David and Shimei's case. Gospel humility demands we acknowledge the truth about us wherever it is spoken...even if it is from the Devil himself. So with the conclusion of humility established that we should receive a correction from the hand of the Lord toward our sin through our children, even if in disrespect and dishonor, what is the order and how do we make the transition.

Present Conclusion

I'm not so sure it matters what order we take this in. Whether we address our child's disrespect first or last seems indifferent. But as I indicated before, I'm short on wisdom here. It seems to me at this point in the parenting "game" that if humility is present, and if we are walking in the Spirit, He will guide us which order is better. What is more, He will also help us make that transition smoothly. Where we lack wisdom in such an encounter, let us ask of God who has promised to give that wisdom to us abundantly and without finding fault in our children did.

God is loving us through our children's sinfully motivated and communicated reprovals, rebukes, and corrections. Whichever the order and however the transition, I also recommend that we as parents should retreat the prayer close when the encounter is finished so that we can thank God for His mercy to us by using our children's sin to bring ours to the light of His grace so that we can be forgiven and see more clearly to repent from that sin in the future.

I welcome further comments and helps.

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