Gracious Living: Love Builds Up

Pastor Bayly recently preached an excellent sermon (extemporaneously!) from Romans 14 on the subject of things that divide us unnecessarily. This passage deals with two issues that were causing problems among the Roman church: should Christians eat meat sacrificed to idols? And should believers recognize special days? Of course, those are not our issues today, so Pastor Bayly made applications that are relevant to us, right here and now. What are the things that divide us? For women, most of the things that separate us have to do with how we raise our children. Pastor Bayly talked about childbirth, breastfeeding, and schooling choices. Even when we don’t realize it, we too often think we have figured out “the right way” to do things, and pity the poor dear who doesn’t see things our way.

The parallel passage to Romans 14 is I Corinthians 8. I love how the first verse summarizes things:

I Corinthians 8:1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.

Try reading that verse by substituting whatever your hot button issue is. (“Now concerning homeschooling, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.”)

Thinking about these things reminded me of something I wrote at the beginning of the year as I prepared to begin my new Titus 2 partnership with a very dear younger woman. We had decided to focus on mothering issues. Now, if you think that because I have many children this should be easy for me, you would be wrong. “It’s too bad that I couldn’t have done this about 15 years ago,” I thought ironically. Back then I felt so much more confident about how to parent. Somehow with many more children, things have gotten not simpler, but more complex. Last fall as I was working through why I had once felt so much more sure of myself in terms of parenting, I wrote the following:

Back when Tim and I had four or five children, all elementary school or younger, life seemed pretty easy. Like many earnest young Christian parents, we’d worked hard at intentional parenting and now we had these generally well-behaved, delightful children. We were fooled into thinking that we had something to do with the fact. I’m embarrassed to say, Tim and I were cheeky enough to feel that we knew how this parenting thing ought to be done, and we were happy to share our “wisdom” with anyone who wasn’t quite so far along as we were.

In reality, we were arrogant fools.

Well, God had some work to do in humbling us, and he proceeded to do it in the subsequent years. Our next babies (all equally delightful to the first four) began coming in rapid succession. Life with six and seven children was more difficult, and our “control” began slipping. By baby number eight things were even more challenging and then baby number nine, born prematurely following a difficult pregnancy, threw us over the edge. Any illusions we’d had about being able to handle this parenting thing on our own were gone as we daily cried out to God for His strength, mercy and wisdom to raise our children. Now we knew what had been the reality all along: any good thing happening in our children’s lives was a result of God’s mercy and blessing, not our human efforts. Yes, as parents we are called to faithfully love, train, correct, and teach our children, but the work is God’s not ours.

A second thing changed as our family grew in both size and age: we began to see more of the complexity of parenting children with different personalities and needs, varying strengths and weaknesses, over different ages and stages. In retrospect we can see how gentle the Lord was with us in our early years. Our first several children were for the most part quickly obedient, though of course there were testing moments with each of them. Many of our later children have, well, been more challenging. We’ve had a chronic biter, an ultra-low sleep need child, and a preschooler who would tell us that she hated God. To top it off, sometimes the very things that had worked with the earlier children were not working with the younger ones. What were we to do?

The good news is that in God’s Word we are given all the instruction we need for life and godliness. This is as true in parenting as it is in other areas of the Christian life. Scripture is filled with specific instruction and general principles about raising godly children. Scripture should inform our parenting philosophy and practice, our words and our actions. When we teach our children, it should be suffused with biblical thinking. When we discipline, it should be from a scriptural basis, and with God’s word both as the standard and instructions.

Yet while there are many direct explicit teachings on childrearing, such as how to discipline and correct our children, there are also general principles. In these things, different families will make different applications. For example, in passages such as Deut. 6: 4-9 parents are clearly given the responsibility to teach their children. However, parents may choose to delegate some of this responsibility to others. Some parents may decide that homeschooling will offer them the best means of training their children, while other families will find that public or private schooling is the best option for a portion of their children’s education. (All of us need to teach, train, and disciple our children at home, too, of course!)

Sometimes it is hard to discern what issues are really important. We can make a big deal about, and try to find biblical support, for our opinions on matters from scheduling to sleep arrangements to the proper age to introduce solid foods.

So, while it would be nice to be able to lay out a neat and tidy system of “A + B = C,” we can’t be that simplistic. Real parenting is sometimes messy. Dads and moms must work together, praying, searching Scripture, and asking God to help them know how to train each one of their precious children in righteousness. Different parents will come to different conclusions about many matters. We need to cut each other slack, and live with one another in humility.

Does this mean that we can never talk about breastfeeding, schooling or childbirth? I don’t think so. As older women teach younger ones how to love their husbands and children, they will often talk of very specific matters. The guiding principle though, ought to be, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” As we talk with one another, we need to be very humble. Am I speaking to build up my friend or myself? We need to remember that our friend’s family situation is not identical to ours. We need to remember that even our personality bents will affect how we parent, and this is not necessarily a problem! We need to not judge one another in these non-essential matters. We need to live graciously with one another!

Romans 12:10, 16 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Romans 14:
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way.
19 So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

Ephesians 4: 1-3 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.


Barbara Lehr said…
Just reading your blog builds me up and encourages me as I am looking to God to provide the way through this life of mothering the three He's blessed us with. Thank you so much for these important words of wisdom. Love, Barbara

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