Readers, your comments are a major part of this blog. We are grateful for your interaction and the opportunity to address questions and concerns that interest you. Just one disclaimer – the answers that we give here can only be principial in nature. Without being able to sit down with you face to face and carefully collect data, specific application is unwise. So please remember that as you read posts and responses to comments. However, there is great value in considering possible responses to questions that you raise. Here is one such recent comment and question:
Question: We struggle with a child who constantly corrects the other siblings, and often with a tone of voice that is harsh. We have tried the sit-down method (bringing the gospel to bear), but often are guilty of the incident-to-incident approach. I hesitate to use spanking for this, since it is not rebellion toward a parent, however, it seems that having the child reflect (a/k/a timeout) would have the child being constantly sitting in a chair. It seems as if nothing works: the behavior is still there!
Any thoughts? I know that’s not much to go on, but any help towards bringing the gospel to bear would be appreciated.
The actions of this child appear to fall under the heading of “lording it over” others. For ease of reference I am going to refer to the child in the comment as Joe, although Jennifer would work just as well. Jesus addresses this issue specifically in Luke 22 and in Mark 10:35-45. In the Mark account, James and John come to Jesus with the request to sit at the right and left hand of Christ when he comes into his glory. The other disciples interpret this request as the Zebedee brothers seeking a position of everlasting authority over them. They are less than thrilled at this idea and become indignant. Christ calls his squabbling disciples together and tells them about the difference between exercising biblical authority and worldly authority:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (NIV) Mark 10:42-45
Some parallels can be drawn from Joe’s behavior and from the actions of James and John. Christ makes two definitive statements about exercising authority in a way that is pleasing to God. The first statement is that the world is not to provide the Christian’s model for how to exercise authority. The second is that true authority is established by being a servant of those whom you would serve. I want to look at these two points in relation to the question at hand, but there is one more point of connection.
James and John were asking for something that was not appropriate for them to request. They were, in effect, attempting to usurp God’s authority, by asking that they be placed in the position of power over others. God gives authority to whom he pleases and when he pleases. He does not need counsel from his subjects to make these decisions. Joseph, Moses, David, and Daniel provide examples of God placing men in highly visible positions of power. Each of these men were powerful leaders, but interestingly, none of them were seeking to serve as leaders at the time God placed them in authority. By giving directions to other children in the family, Joe is usurping the authority that God has given to the parents. So, Joe is not only challenging parents, but also showing disrespect for and impatience with God.
Now we have the principles in place to address Joe’s behavior of giving commands to his siblings. The first step would be talk with Joe and clearly instruct him that God has appointed Mom and Dad to be the authority figures who represent God in this family, with Dad given the place of primary authority (Proverbs 1:8-9; Ephesians 6:1).
Therefore, it is wrong for Joe to give commands to his siblings in the manner that his parents have described. The inappropriateness of Joe’s directions is underscored by the observation that he is not leading as a servant, but as one who demands that authority be given to him. The harsh tone indicates that compliance to his will is something that he has the right to demand, and he is angry when compliance is not given. This is precisely the worldly version of authority that is consistent with lording it over someone rather than serving him out of love for God.
It is good to let Joe know at this point that if he persists in requiring obedience from his siblings he is directly defying his parents and, more importantly, God. There is also another point to consider that will benefit Joe. Let’s assume for a moment that Joe sees actual issues that should be addressed, and he genuinely desires to see his siblings obey. The way for him to respond in that case is not to take matters into his own hands, but to trust his parents and God to address the things he is concerned about. Left to himself, Joe will emerge into adulthood as a demanding, bitter young man who will never be satisfied by the actions of those around him.
At the bottom of all of this is a child who is not able to find comfort in the mercy extended to us in Christ. Matthew 18:23-35, the parable of the unmerciful servant, applies here at the deepest level of Joe’s struggles. He could not extend mercy because he did not know mercy. Much time may be needed to explore with Joe the things that trouble his heart. Parents must give careful thought to this. Perhaps he believes some great wrong has been done to him or someone he loves. Perhaps he himself is so performance- and obedience-focused that he doesn’t grasp the grace and mercy of forgiveness in Christ. Whatever the issue is, it will be resolved at the cross. Joe needs to know the mercy of Christ and to know that forgiveness of sins and peace within his soul are found only in embracing the Gospel in all of its power.
It is easy to be frustrated with a child like Joe, but God calls us to compassion and hope. Joe needs to be shown that he cannot perform his way out of struggles, and neither can his siblings. He is on a path of seeking to have justice applied to those around him. This path never leads to resolution, only to more frustration as others continue to fail. The path of repentance and trust in Christ is the way of hope for Joe. Speak to him of Christ as you work through the struggles of his heart.
Let me know your thoughts.