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Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Parenting Prodigal Children

A synopsis of a sermon preached in Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church 
on Lord's day morning 1st September 2013 as part of a series on the Family

Genesis 26:34,35: And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite: Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

Despite all the instruction imparted by Christian parents; despite all the efforts and desires of Christian parents to train their children in the ways of God and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; despite all the prayers that they have offered up to God at the throne of grace; there are times when Christian parents are faced with the distressing situation that their children rebel against their parental authority; and worse still against the Lord and against the Gospel of saving grace.

It is that situation that I want to address this Lord's day. What are Christian parents to do? How do they bear this heavy cross? What relief is there to be found that might alleviate this burden just a little?

In considering children as part of the family we have been stressing the importance of teaching them and instructing them in the ways of God; of training them up in the way that they should go and not in the way they want to go.

Every parent, who truly professes Jesus Christ as Saviour, and who is walking in fellowship with Christ, will desire that their children come to know Christ and follow Christ. Their desire will be that of Abraham for Ishmael: O that Ishmael might live before thee! Genesis 17:18. Or like that of the beloved disciple, John: I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth, 3 John 4.

This ought to be the chief and supreme desire that Christian parents have for their children. If the supreme desire of professing Christian parents is not that their children seek first the kingdom of God, then it is no surprise that children go astray: where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. If we put career, or possessions or pleasures or past times or making money before the Lord then we should not be surprised when our children do the same and neglect this things of God.

However, what are 'godly' parents to do? Parents, who have sought like Abraham to command their children. It was said of whom Abraham: For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment.

What are godly parents to do who have sorrow and grief in their heart, like that which we have read of today in the heart of Isaac and Rebekah, when Esau's choices in life were: a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah? The word 'grief' in Genesis 26:35 means 'bitterness'.

Esau developed a most rebellious spirit, Genesis 26:35, 28:6-9. He deliberately did that which grieved his parents. If taking wives of the Hittites was not bad enough, he took wives from among the daughters of the Canaanites. Consider:

I. This Grief of Heart is Sadly a Common Occurrence
The experience of Isaac and Rebekah is common down through the history of the people of God:

1. This was true of the first parents in this world's history, Adam and Eve. They had three sons and one of them broke their hearts. What hopes Adam and Eve had entertained for Cain, Genesis 4:1. Some believe that Eve even saw him as the promised seed. He turned out to be anything but! Cain wrecked the tranquility of their family by murdering Abel his brother. Cain died a separated outcast before God.

2. This was true of Noah. The three sons of Noah were greatly favoured by being brought into the Ark. Yet after the flood things changed so dramatically. Ham brought shame and disgrace upon Noah and himself, and a curse upon his offspring.

3. Aaron had two sons who brought the wrath of God down upon them. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire. Fire came out from the holy place and consumed them, Leviticus 10:1-2. This was most likely done in a drunken stupor, Leviticus 10:8-11. How many a child of believing parents has ended up in a drunken stupor doing something that is wicked before God?

4. The sons of Samuel did not walk in the ways of God, 1 Samuel 8:5. The sons of Samuel were Joel [also known as Vashni], and Abiah, 1 Samuel 8:2; 1 Chronicles 6:28,33. Samuel made them Judges in Israel but they turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment, 1 Samuel 8:3. The people sought for a king instead.

They were the very opposite of the upright conduct their father, 1 Samuel 12:3,4.

5. David's children grew up not right with God. He had to lament over them: although my house be not so with God;…, 2 Samuel 23:5. Remember the lament of David over Absalom: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! 2 Samuel 18:33. Absalom caused his father to cover his head in shame and shed tears over him, 2 Samuel 19:4.

These are Scriptural examples of an all too common occurrence in Christian families.

II. This is a Repeated Occurrence because Grace is not Hereditary
Why do these things happen? Why do the children of God's people end up in unbelief and acting in a fashion that brings grief and heartache to their parents?

The answer to these questions is to remember that our children are no different from any other children born into this world.

Grace is not hereditary. Salvation doesn't run in families by divine right. There is no automatic guarantee that children born to believing parents will be converted and brought to Christ. This is taught in John 1:13: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. We are not assume that our children will be saved. We must strive by God's grace to employ all the means at our disposal to see them saved, but we must never assume that they will be saved just because they are born of Christian parents.

It is not the will of God to save every child of believing parents. This is a sobering thought. If it were otherwise then none of the examples that we have alluded to would exist. We must never think that if we faithfully do our part then God must do His part and all will be well. We can never be anything more than imperfect parents. We are at best unprofitable servants when it comes to parenting our children. The salvation of our children depends upon more than the discharge of our parental duties. The salvation of our children depends upon the mercy and intervention of God in the lives of our children.

Our children are born with a sinful, depraved and rebellious heart. There is no difference in the nature that children are born with, whether they be born of believing parents, or of unbelieving parents. The Bible has no time for the idea that somehow being born of believing parents makes a child more inclined to believe the gospel and follow the Lord.

The natural course of their heart is rebellion against God. Left to themselves this will be the natural outcome of their hearts.

III. Godly Parents must Continue to be Faithful to God and His Truth
However despairing this type of situation might be for Christian parents, they must seek to continue to follow the Lord fully.

The devil would do all he can to use this type of a situation to discourage believing parents. Even to the extent of getting them to do the very same thing that their children have done and throw off the things of God.

This is the warning of Peter in 1 Peter 5:6-10. Times of care, trouble and distress are seasons of vulnerability, where the devil can get in and ensnare us. We are to resist stedfastly.

We are not to despair of our children. While there is life there is hope. God is a God of mercy. Think about the Old Testament prodigal, Manasseh. A man who sinned grievously against the Lord despite the godliness of his father Hezekiah and his upbringing. Mercifully, this wayward son was brought to the Lord. It took trouble of a grievous sort but through that trouble Manasseh sought the Lord: And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 2 Chronicles 33:12.

With the Lord there is always hope. Trust in God to be merciful.

We have the example of David as a troubled parent. David was in despair over Absalom's rebellion. Psalm 61 is generally taken as being written at this time. In this Psalm he speaks of being overwhelmed, v2. What did David do in this situation:

[1] He prayed, Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed…, Psalm 61:1,2. Christian parents need to continue to pray that God will be gracious, show mercy and save wandering children.

[2] He desired and found solace in being led to Christ, …lead me to the rock that is higher than I, Psalm 61:2. The Lord is the rock higher than David. He is the Rock of Israel, the Rock of our salvation, our refuge, and our strong tower.

In Him we find solace and comfort in distress when our souls are overwhelmed.

[3] He purposes to abide in God's tabernacle, v4: I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever…. The tabernacle of God was like a place of sweet and blessed communion. He desires to live near to God.

[4] He will continue to trust in God, v4: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. He will trust under the wings of the Almighty. He will depend upon God and upon none else.

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