October 22, 2017

By Their Parents Ye Shall Know Them

What you are, you may expect your child to be

Ben Strohbehn

“By their parents ye shall know them” is not a quotation from Scripture. It is a Biblical statement, however, for the Bible says “Isaiah, the son of Amoz,” “Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah,” “James, the son of Zebedee,” “James, the son of Alphaeus,” and “Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son.” The Bible is saying, “By their parents ye shall know them.” What you are as a parent you may expect your child to be.

“My son followed my footsteps to jail” are words which a convict in the Indiana State Prison is reported to have said a few years ago. The father was doing life for kidnaping; the son was in the same prison under a life sentence for murder — yes, by their parents ye shall know them.

The Apostle Paul admonished, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Notice how The Amplified Bible emphasizes the important principles of this verse: “Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger — do not exasperate them to resentment — but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord.” This text offers the insight needed to consider the proposal, the problems, and the promises related to the statement, “By their parents ye shall know them.”

The Proposal

“Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” How important and how emphatic are the Biblical statements on child training! Why? Because obedience is the foundation of character. However, in order to teach obedience, parents must also understand discipline, for the two are interrelated. Discipline is the means whereby obedience is achieved — a factor too often overlooked by modern parents. Perhaps these parents have been too greatly influenced by the many present-day advisors on child-care, who either question the authority (as well as the practicality) of the Bible, or disregard its teachings altogether. The important fact, of course, is that God demands discipline whether parents do or not, and He holds parents responsible to teach obedience through discipline.

The Bible is replete with passages concerning the how, when, and why of discipline–how, as in Proverbs 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame”; when, as in Proverbs 19:18: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying”; and why, as in Proverbs 29:17: “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul”

The Problem

“Provoke not your children to wrath.” The training of children is not without difficulty. The Apostle warned not only that problems would be encountered, but also warned of the danger in using the wrong methods. What are some of the common difficulties confronting parents?

The use of clichés. Probably the most common cliché used by parents today is ‘When I was your age …” The implication is that the parent was a “model” child at that particular age and that discipline was never needed. The real problem, however, is the inability of the parent to understand the child in his present situation. Isn’t it strange what the passing of time does to a parent’s memory of childhood, especially the specific times of correction?

One father, while attempting to repair his son’s broken toy (purchased only the day before), was heard to say, “I just don’t understand children today. They have no respect for property. When I was a boy, I received one toy at Christmas. It was to last the whole year. If I broke it, I knew my father and I would have a session in the woodshed. I just can’t see why kids today won’t take care of their toys.” The answer to the father’s dilemma is clear. And the Bible helps to confirm the obvious, for Solomon wrote: I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me” (Proverbs 4:3-4). Remember parents, “Provoke not” by the use of clichés.

The everlasting “No.” Another of the common problems of parents, as they sincerely endeavor to “train up” their children, is the ease with which they resort to the use of the everlasting “No.” This idea is typified by the mother who told her teen-age daughter, “Go see what your little brother is doing, and tell him to stop it!”

Some parents rely on the convenient “No!” simply because they are too busy, too selfish, or too lazy to take time to understand how best to direct their child’s activities. Perhaps the important principle to recognize is that children often need parental help in finding resourceful activities. A simple “not that way” but “this way” often satisfies the over-active child.

The no-discipline theory. Some parents will never be guilty of the everlasting “No” because they are at the other extreme. They don’t believe in discipline; they want their child to be free to develop his personality in his own way. Typical of this is the father who, apparently aware of the concern of others over the misbehavior of his children ages four and two, said, “I’ll be glad when my children are old enough to understand the meaning of the word ‘no.’”

In contrast to this is the example of Mrs. Susannah Wesley, long considered one of the world’s most successful mothers. In The Heart of John Wesley’s Journal is a letter which Mrs. Wesley wrote to her son, John, in answer to his request for her rules in educating her family. She wrote, in part: “When turned a year old (and some before), they were taught to fear the rod, and to cry softly; by which means they escaped abundance of correction they might otherwise have had; and that most odious noise of the crying of children was rarely heard in the houses but the family usually lived in as much quietness as if there had not been a child among them.”

How different her discipline, how different her results, from that of Eli, the high priest of Israel, whose failure as a father is mentioned in I Samuel 3:13: “For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” The writer of Proverbs also warns: ‘The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth big mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15).

The battered-child syndrome. “The battered-child syndrome” — that’s how the United States Department of Public Health refers to what is more commonly known as “child abuse,” “Child abuse” is really nothing more than using children as scapegoats — someone on whom parents can release pent-up irritations, frustrations, animosities, and even hate; yet, someone who can’t retaliate.

But why should innocent children bear the brunt of parental immaturity and inability to handle the pressures of the day? It would be better to use a rock pile behind the garage, or a punching bag, if that type of release is needed. Still better relief can be found in the powerful Word of God — such passages that break down self and build up the Spirit-controlled life; for example, I Corinthians 13:4 (from The Amplified Bible) — “Love suffereth long, and is kind” and Ephesians 4:31-32 — “Let all bitterness and indignation and wrath (passion, rage, bad temper) and resentment (anger, animosity) and quarreling be banished from you. … And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, lovinghearted).”

For parents who may be troubled with this problem, and who realize that ‘by their parents ye shall know them,” the following poem might be helpful:

O parents, so weary, discouraged,
Worn out with the cares of the day,
You often grow cross and impatient,
Complain of the noise and the play;
For the day brings so many vexations,
So many things going amiss;
But, parents, whatever may vex you,
Send the children to bed with a kiss!

(Author unknown)

Childhood fears. While shopping late one evening in a department store a mother was overheard to say to her weary four-year-old: “If you don’t hush that crying, I’m going to give you to that policeman over there.” Here was a typical mother, fraught with an embarrassing situation with which she could not cope at the moment, doing what many parents do in the disciplining of children — frightening the child with an “outside authority” to bring about compliance with parental wishes for acceptable behavior. And if it isn’t a policeman, then it’s the pastor!

Yet the Bible says, “Ye fathers (and mothers, but not policemen), bring them up …” Rear them tenderly, don’t use fear! The Bible also says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7), Further, I John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.” Anxiety is an enemy to self-reliant conduct, which is so important in the development and training of children. The Bible does admonish parents to discipline — to use the rod and reproof — not harshly, not with fear, but in love.

The problems of child care and training could well be expected to overwhelm many more parents if it were not for their ability to adopt an over-all view of their parental responsibility. Such a view permits them to believe in and enjoy the promises of God.

The Promises

Certainly there are promises implied in Ephesians 6:4. These promises will be realized only as parents accept the proposal to ‘bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and as they avoid the problems included in the warning, “provoke not.” But I must emphasize that God’s promises are conditional. Notice Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”; Proverbs 22:15: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him”; and Proverbs 29:17: “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.”

Since it is true that by their parents ye shall know them, let parents willingly and prayerfully endeavor to meet God’s proposals. They will then enjoy His promises, “for he is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23).


This article first appeared in Faith for the Family, September / October 1974. It is republished here by permission.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

Submit other comments here.