What does the Bible say about parenting?
I’ll never forget the moment when I first held my oldest child. I was overwhelmed with pride, excitement, and anxiety. I realized there was no turning back: I was a father.
Parents—especially first-timers—often have feelings of anticipation and even fear. We ask ourselves if we’re ready. We worry that something will happen and we won’t know what to do. We’re scared that we’ll make so many mistakes that our kids will be messed-up beyond repair.
So we search for resources to help us. We look to our own parents for wisdom. We ask our siblings and friends who have already had children. And some of us consult the Bible, which is filled with parenting advice.
Parents in the Bible
Of course, the Bible was not written primarily as a how-to guide for raising children. Nevertheless, it has plenty to say on the subject. Through proverbs and stories, the Bible reveals much about what it means to parent in a godly way. Much is demonstrated through narrative examples of parents raising their children in good and . . . well, not-so-good ways.
Some of those bad examples lead people to think that anything the Bible has to say about parenting should be discredited. But I believe the illustrations of bad parenting in the Bible are meant to show us what not to do—as most bad examples are intended to do.
One of the most well-known and controversial Bible stories of parent and child is that of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham had waited literally one hundred years for Isaac to come along. He loved Isaac and valued him above almost all else; Abraham knew Isaac’s birth was a gift from God.
But then God told Abraham to take Isaac up a mountain and to sacrifice him as an offering.1 I can almost imagine Abraham responding, “You want me to do what?”
Nonetheless, Abraham had faith in God’s goodness and provision, and he set out on the trip with his son. Abraham’s faith was well-founded. God stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice of his son.
It’s important to recognize that the main point of this story has less to do with guidelines for parenting and more to do with a testing of Abraham’s faith. Never does the Bible advocate hurting your children. The fact that Isaac was never actually harmed—plus the many places where the Bible condemns child sacrifice—supports this point.
But the Bible doesn’t offer just examples of parenting through stories; it also gives direct parenting advice. In this advice we find the ideal standard of parenting according to God’s will. Time and again, the Bible urges parents to do three things: treasure their children, teach and correct them, and model for them how to live.
Treasure Your Children
Psalm 127:3 declares, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”2 Children are, first and foremost, a reward—a blessing. It’s easy to see our children as blessings when they’re little. But the Bible says that as they grow older (and beyond that adorable phase) we are to continue to treasure them, even when it’s not as easy.
Treasuring our children means we must not parent with cruelty, overcorrection, or unduly harsh discipline. Such treatment can cause our children to become bitter and resentful. Colossians 3:21 urges us, “Parents, do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged.”3 As parents, it is our job to make sure our children feel supported and loved.
My wife and I have raised three kids for the last thirteen years. There have been ups and downs, and we’ve made plenty of mistakes. But it never fails: whenever we’ve had a particularly rough day of parenting, we remember a tender or sweet story about the child in question, and we are left with smiles and feelings of thanksgiving for having such a great kid.
Just as the Bible says, our children are a blessing to us. And so we must treasure them at all times and all ages.
Teach and Correct Your Children
However, this isn’t to imply that the Bible doesn’t urge parents to teach and correct their children. After a summary of God’s law given to the Israelites, Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs, “Impress [God’s commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”4
We parents are to impart knowledge of godly, righteous living to our children. This should be the foundation of our teachings to them. Proverbs 22:6 explains the importance of this: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” We want to instill in our children a sense of righteous living that will carry them through to adulthood.
To do this, parents are encouraged to teach and correct children through careful, gentle discipline. Scripture tells us that God disciplines his children (meaning all believers) out of love: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves.”5
Parents are to follow the example set by God the Father, for discipline gives children a sense of consistency and a guide for right behavior. But it is impossible to overstate the importance of ensuring we discipline our children from a place of love, never out of anger. We discipline our children to improve their long-term quality of life, not to vent our emotions.
Author Chip Ingram makes a great point: “If a child can’t learn to obey a parent who is visible, he’ll never learn to obey a God who isn’t.”6 Teaching our children God’s ways ought to be a top priority for all parents.
My greatest desire for my kids is that they learn God’s will for their lives. In my own life, I’ve discovered that God’s wisdom far surpasses mine. When I’ve tried to follow his path for me, I’ve felt his presence even in challenging times. I hope for my children to find the same comfort, love, and purpose in relationship with God.
Model a Right Life for Your Children
Finally, the Bible urges parents to model for their children everything they teach them. Essentially, as the old adage goes, we need to practice what we preach. The book of Titus explains what Christians are to do: “In everything set . . . an example by doing what is good. In your teaching, show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech.”7
If we do not act the way we want our children to act, our words will be worthless. Children become what they see, so we must show them what we want them to become. If you want your child to live a life according to certain standards, you yourself must do so first.
I’ve seen this first-hand in my family. My father modeled good behavior to me in treating my stepmother with love and respect, so I learned from his example how I ought to treat my wife. However, he also had a short temper, so I’ve unfortunately developed one, too.
Now that I’m a father myself, I see behaviors in my children that they have definitely picked up from me. My oldest son visited his aunt last summer on his own and she let us know what a gentleman he was. “I never had to open a door for myself the entire time he was here,” she said. Apparently he has been watching me do this for his mom all these years and actually learned something—a bit shocking, I know. However, in other ways I’ve modeled bad behavior. Our middle child has a pretty short fuse, just like me; we’re both working on it.
The truth of the matter is pretty clear: Model what you want your children to be. They’ll be what they see.
Grace and Forgiveness
But though God has given us wisdom about parenting, we all sometimes fail to live it out. Even though my wife and I have learned a thing or two by now, we still feel anxiety. We question—or even regret—a decision we made in the heat of the moment. No one is perfect, least of all us.
But thankfully we have the most powerful tool in our back pockets: God’s grace. We, as children who fail the ultimate Father when we sin, are still loved by him. My wife and I cling to this truth when we lose our tempers or forget an event or overbook ourselves.
And because we know God’s grace so personally, we seek to extend that same grace to our children when they fail us, as well. Let your parenting be filled with God’s grace, love, and forgiveness as you treasure, teach, and model righteous living for your children.