Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds; -Proverbs 27:23
With the recent mass killings fresh in our mind, something that always happens after one of these tragedies is that the people close to the murderer routinely say they had no idea the person would do something like this. Neighbors, school friends, or coworkers all say the same thing “he was such a nice person, I never knew he was into things like this.” And while it is hard to put much blame on someone who only has acquaintance level of familiarity with someone, it is far more troubling to hear that the parents of these young men are equally ignorant. Most of the time, these young men live with or near their parents but their parents are utterly clueless to the condition of their sons hearts.
Alas we think this is just a problem with fathers of murderers, how many times does a young lady get pregnant out of wedlock and their parents act totally surprised. How many teenage children are doing things right under the noses of their parents and their parents seem to have no clue of any of it. Often it’s not that the parents are given no signs of these things. There are always signs all around for everyone to see. But we have made a culture out of closing our eyes to things we really don’t want to see.
“See something, say something” has a big brother totalitarian ring to it and no one wants tattlers running to a tyrannical government. But honestly, there is no need to worry about people saying something because we have all collectively agreed not to see something. That young woman struggling with her kids being disobedient at church- What young woman struggling with her kids being disobedient at church are you talking about? That young man who won’t look you in the eyes when he is talking to you because he might be experiencing guilt for looking at porn- What young man you talking about? I didn’t see that. Well how about that young boy with all the effeminate mannerisms and lispy voice, maybe he is struggling with unnatural lusts. Didn’t see him either.
We are very good at not seeing what we see so we don’t have to get involved, so we won’t have to say something.
The Proverb says: Know well the condition of your flock. This has application beyond the farmer. Pastors need to be able to see what they see. Fathers need to be able to see what they see. Fathers do you know the condition of your children? Do you have talks with them about what is on their heart. Do you know what they are consuming on the internet or in the books they read? Do you know what your son does in his room with the door locked all the time? Do you know what your daughter is thinking about the boys she is hanging out with?
You need to know well the condition of your household and that will require seeing what you see and saying something to your household when you see it- not as a nag or a private eye snooping- but as someone who genuinely cares to know the heart of their son or daughter. If you don’t know the condition of your flock it is because A. you are just an absentee shepherd or B. you are self-blinded shepherd. Both will end up with a diseased and sickened flock.
Yesterday I posted on facebook a quote from a puritan named William Gouge. In his exposition of Ephesians 6 he made this observation: "when parents are too indulgent over their children, God does punish the sin both of parent and child, by shortening the child's days."
He was observing that just as the scripture contains a promise of long life and prosperity to those who obey their parents, so does it warn those who disobey their parents that they deserve death. Many people took issue with this statement by Gouge. Even one "pastor" said he showed people at his church and mocked it. He should know better and I am saddened by that response.
I still affirm this quote by Gouge and I believe that is faithful to biblical teaching. One theme that kept popping up in the pushback from other commentators was the idea of exceptions to the rule. People asked about those who die young and were obedient or those who were faithful parents and had children who rebelled. What about the exceptions?
First of all, we don’t sacrifice the normal on the alter of the abnormal nor the general on the alter of the exception. The Bible has a lot of general promises that we would do well to believe and hold. For example, the general promise is that if you raise up your child in the way he should go when he is old, he will not depart from it. What a wonderful promise to parents that they should treasure. This, however, does not mean though that God in his good will and pleasure may not allow something else to happen. God may allow the child to go astray like the prodigal son. This exception to the promise does not invalidate the promise but shows that God is God and he does what is right. As the book of Romans says, God will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy. In the cases where God allows these things, he has a good purpose and we can trust that even the rebellion of our children will be a part of all the things that God works together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.
Furthermore, the promise to long life that attends the commandment to obey your parents is also a general promise. God in his good pleasure may determine that there is something better for the obedient child than long life. He may decide to take the life of a young man who was and is honoring his father in order to protect that young man from something else or to use that young man in a mighty display of the gospel. Again, this exception to the promise does not invalidate the promise. It shows that God may give above and beyond what he promises. William Gouge said: “God does never simply deprive his Saints of that which is promised, but only instead of it gives a better: as in taking away wealth, he gives the more store of grace: in restraining liberty of body, he gives freedom of conscience: with affliction he gives patience: by taking away this temporal life, he gives eternal life. God herein deals, as if one who having promised so much iron, should instead thereof give as much silver: or for silver give gold: and so for one pound give the worth of hundreds or thousands."
In these cases, we must trust God above all. He is a good father who gives good gifts to his children. He is also a just judge which is why he warns those who dishonor their parents that they are walking a dangerous path. Those who dishonor their parents and disobey should tread lightly. They may find that their life is ended short. If it is not ended short, it may be prolonged so that they may face earthly consequences for their disobedience or so that they may store up wrath for themselves when they do die.
Christian parents should keep all of this in mind. They should know that they have an awesome responsibility to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. They should pray for and long for the salvation of their children. They should believe the promises of God for their children and they should fear the warnings of God for their children. In doing so, they will not abrogate their responsibility and over indulge their children. They will see that to do so is to harm their children and is a grave sin against God and their children. They will instead strive to teach their children faith and obedience to Christ.
The following are some scripture texts to meditate on and are foundational for this post:
2 Timothy 3:1-5 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.