God teaches us to comfort each other, by comforting us. We teach our children to comfort themselves and others, by comforting them, answering their cries, and showing them we are reliable.
We also must remember, when correcting our children, that it is God’s gentleness which leads us to the knowledge of truth (2 Timothy 2:25), and His goodness which leads to our repentance (Romans 2:4).
Our children’s view of their Heavenly Father is strengthened by their view of loving parents, so we must be sure we’re striving to mimic our Perfect Father. And we must make sure we have a Biblical understanding of the nature of children.
The Nature of Children
All have sinned
All are born with sin nature
Babies do not yet commit sin
Children sin less than adults
While it is true that we are all born with sin nature, (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23), …babies do not yet commit sin. There are three verses usually sited to show that we are born sinNING, but note the alternate interpretation following each:
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, [into a home full of iniquity], And in sin my mother conceived me [my mother was a sinner].” (Ps 51:5)
Babies have sinful parents, & are brought up in homes where sin takes place.
“The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” (Ps 58.3)
Infants cannot speak, so neither can they speak lies. Figuratively, then, the children of the wicked are doomed from birth because of the wicked homes they’re born into. We are born with a sin nature, but babies cannot yet sin.
Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”
The verse does not say, “Foolishness is bound tightly around the heart of a child”. However, that is the common interpretation. It says, “Foolishness is BOUND [not loosed] IN [inside] the heart of a child…” The heart is not bound. The foolishness is bound. It’s not yet loose. It’s easily driven out, at this young age, before it is loosed.
We can clearly see this play out in the world. Adults become caught up in far worse sins than children. Left to our sin natures, & away from God, we sinners get worse & worse with age. Those saved at a young age fare far better in life, than those saved later.
Israelite children were not held accountable for their sins until after the age of twenty, because Scripture says they were not yet able to choose good over evil.
(God said:) “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” (Deu 1.39)
This coincides with the modern scientific studies stating that the human brain is not fully mature until around age 25. Up until then, the centers controlling impulse have not fully developed. This is not to say that children younger than 20 cannot sin, or don’t know how to resist temptation at all. Obviously, the older the child, the more responsible for their choices they can be. But, this is all part of the maturing process.
“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking [unable to discern good from evil]. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
(1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV)
Infants are not evil. Paul uses the innocence of infants as an example of how innocent we should be.
Matthew 8:2-4, “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus uses the innocence of children as an example of the humility He wants to see in us.
I Corinthians 13:11, When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Paul expresses children’s lack of understanding. However, Jesus uses children as an example of how we should enter the kingdom of God. Children misbehave because they do not understand, not because they are being sinful.
We are taught to speak the truth in love, and are given instructions on how to discipline each other within the Body of Christ. If this is how we are to treat one another in the Body of Christ, does it not also apply to youths? In the Kingdom, there is neither male, nor female, Greek, nor Jew, slave, nor free. Paul warns Titus, “don’t let anyone despise your youth.” If we are to treat each other with these guidelines, as adults (who, CAN be held accountable for knowing how to choose good over evil), how much more are we to uphold these principles with our children, who can’t yet maturely choose or be held accountable, and are held up by Jesus as the example of Kingdom people? Have authority over them, yes. But, combine this with the golden rule, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
What about children too young to talk? Knowing now what we do about the nature of children as less sinful than adults, less able to know how to choose good, and true examples of Kingdom people, we can erase all preconceived notions about children being evil, or doing things in defiance. We need to see the world through their brand new eyes, understand the world as they do (with their very limited understanding), so we can more effectively guide them.
Baby crying in the night: Out to manipulate you, or truly in need of comfort? Toddler touching the stove after being directed not to: Sinfully disobeying you, or testing the world to try and understand what happens? (I might add here, the area of the brain capable of creating deceit, is completely non-existant at this age.)
What we can do instead is recognize their true need (comfort, understanding), our God-given instincts (hormones which cause a mother to answer her baby’s cries, and which repel her from harming her children), and be imitators of God in Christ. (Psalms says he hears our cry, he answers from his holy hill, he does not leave us or forsake us, he comforts us, he meets all of our needs, he gives us wisdom and understanding, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light).
Traditionally, children are expected to either behave or face punishment. Christianity is based on grace, “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We escape punishment, and instead God chastens us (see “Rightly Dividing” post for definition of “chasten”), yet still accepts us. The chastening is not pleasant, but He says, “My yolk is easy, & my burden is light.” This is not to say children do not require some tough love. “Easy & light” here doesn’t mean “weak & wimpy” (permissive parenting). Instead, Paul says he was “gentle” among the Ephesian church, “as a nursing mother.”
When children misunderstand the way the world works, and make unwise decisions, they’re trusting us to guide them unconditionally, with patience and gentleness. We must strive to display the fruits of the Spirit while we’re guiding. It is what our Father in Heaven would do!
Even if we aren’t being a “neglectful” by earthly (societal) standards, we need to check ourselves against the Heavenly standard, as layed out in the Bible. We, as Christians, must hold ourselves to a different standard than the world, especially in how we influence the next generation.