When I see a parent dealing with a child in an adult body my heart goes out to them. It’s not natural. A child is supposed to grow up mentally, physically and emotionally at the same time. We have this mental image of the normal that we want to hold every family up beside. But there are times when the mental image doesn’t fit. Sometimes the body grows up while the mind stays that of a child or adolescent for their whole lives. Many today would say that the answer to this problem is to check for a child’s health and likelihood for normalcy while they are still in the womb and if they won’t measure up to the right standards, then abort them. Others would say that such a child should be institutionalized for the good of the rest of their family, so that the whole family doesn’t become consumed with that one that isn’t normal.
I certainly don’t have the answer in such situations. I know that using abortion to keep every abnormal child from being born isn’t the right answer. From a common sense point of view it is wrong because too many times it has been the case that a child in the womb has some indication of problems that when born shows no sign of the problem. I’m familiar with more than one instance when a doctor told prospective parents that they needed to abort a child because it was brain damaged and would never have a normal life. The parents refused and had the child. In several of those cases the child was far above normal and has gone on to become very successful adults. To use abortion as a means of birth control or of purifying the race smacks of Nazism and Hitler. Besides that the Bible speaks of John the Baptist and Jeremiah as having been called of God from their mother’s womb.
When Paul wrote Ephesians 6:1-4 he was discussing the normal situation for parents and children. Children are to obey their parents in the Lord for this is right. What does it mean when he uses the phrase “in the Lord”? It has been said that it means the parents are Christians. I don’t think that is right. It has been said that it means when children are brought up with godly principles. I don’t believe that fits the context of Ephesians. I believe it means that children who are old enough to have become Christians need to remember that part of their Christian duty is to obey their parents. They are to show honor to their father and mother. Christian parents, especially fathers are to take care not to provoke their children to wrath or anger, but to “bring them up in the training and discipline of the Lord.”
Why did he specially mention fathers and not mothers? Perhaps because the father is meant to be the leader in the family. But more likely because fathers, especially in that time, tended to leave the training of their children to the mother while they went about their own business. His challenge is for father’s to take their rightful place in bringing the child up for God.
Notice the phrase, “bring them up”. The goal in parenting is to bring a child up to maturity. It isn’t to keep them as a child and dependent on us for a lifetime. To be successful in bringing a child up, it is necessary to give them responsibility from early childhood. Obviously the responsibilities need to be in relation to their age and ability. But even a two year old should be able to do some things. As a child begins to grow up there should be jobs that they are to do just to be part of the family. Along with responsibilities there needs to be choices and decisions that they are allowed to make which bring consequences. If a parent makes every decision for a child during their growing up they won’t develop the ability to think for themselves and make good decisions as young adults.
Notice the two words he uses to demonstrate how we are to bring them up. They are “training’ and “discipline” and each word is modified by the phrase “of the Lord”. There is a difference between the words “train” and “teach”. In teaching we give instruction but in training we not only give instruction, we demonstrate, and correct when one starts down the wrong road. Training fits with what we usually think about when we use the word “coach”. The word “discipline” comes from the word “disciple”. A disciple is a learner, a student or better still, an apprentice. To bring one up in the discipline of the Lord is to show the way and correct one as they get off course to help them get back on course. If discipline is only seen as punishment for mistakes it is viewed far too narrowly. There cannot be any right form of correction until there has been proper instruction and demonstration of what is the right way.
The fact both words are modified by “of the Lord” shows it isn’t meant to be just some rules that have been passed down through our family. It is to strive to bring a child up for God to live as a Christian in the world. We are to model faith in God, teach our children how to live and act and then correct them when they go in the wrong directions.
But what about those times when the normal family life is impossible? What about the times when the body grows up but the mind remains that of a child? In those days a parent can’t bring the child up in God’s training and discipline. They will forever have to love, train and show how to act as one would when they were very small. One such parent whose son is in his forties but whose mind is still that of a five or six year old, went out to eat with his wife and their son. Their son looks normal. But his abilities are extremely limited. He needed to go to the rest room and the father got up to go with him. When he had used the rest room he was unable to wipe himself and the dad had to enter the stall with him to help him. When they came out of the stall they had many looks of disdain from others in the rest room. I wonder what the men said when they went back to their table that day.
We must learn that not every family or every situation can be fit into the exact same mold. Instead of being judgmental in such times we should be very compassionate. “There but for the grace of God go I.” In such times the parent has to do the best they can for as long as they can. A compassionate, loving and healthy church can make a huge difference for them. Friends who would give them some relief by taking care of the child for them for some time would make an amazing amount of difference. Imagine the concern these parents feel when they are getting older and their health is fading while their child is still young and healthy in the body but their mind isn’t. Think of what would concern you about the future. What will happen to that child when mom and dad are no longer here to care for them? It has to be haunting for the parent.
“Bring them up” is the right model. But it won’t always fit.