Communicating the Gospel: God’s goodness to your young children

The wise in heart are
called discerning,
and pleasant words promote
instruction.  — Proverbs 16:21

For wisdom will enter your heart, 
and knowledge will be pleasant to your
soul. —Proverbs 2:10

If you have been following this series of posts on
communicating the Gospel to your children, you will recall that we started the
practical application by looking at teenagers and then working backwards. Now
we are at the age of young children and toddlers, ages 0 to 5.

How do you communicate the goodness of God to these little
ones? While there are several biblical themes that could be used I am focusing
on two Proverbs, the ones listed at the beginning of this post. Remember the premise for this series:  If the knowledge of God is truly pleasant to
your soul, your words should match that reality. The goal of your instruction to
young children is to so honor God that your children will be receptive to your influence
when they become teenagers.


Young children must learn—and this is primary—that they live
in God’s world and are directly accountable to him. Tedd Tripp puts it this way
in Shepherding a Child’s Heart: “The
most important lesson for the child to learn in this period is that he is an individual under authority. He
has been made by God and has a responsibility to obey God in all things.” (129)

Tedd references Ephesians 6:1-3 as the biblical basis for
his statement. Someone might be asking, “What does authority have to do with
pleasant words and pleasantness of soul?” Simply this:  the kindest thing
you can give to your children is the biblical perspective that this is God’s
world. He requires holiness and obedience.

When children fail to honor God as he says, they sin.
Actually, they are born sinful, wanting their own way as opposed to God’s way.
Because of this reality, your children need a Savior, Jesus Christ. God has
placed you in your children’s lives to deliver this message when they wake up,
when they lie down, and when they walk along the way. This message is pleasant because it addresses the
tyranny of the sin that reigns in the hearts of your children.

The world offers tawdry substitutes to satisfy selfish
desires. Sin says having a toy and keeping it from my sister will make me
happy. Sin says I deserve to have that drink right now and then I will be happy
(Eph. 2:1-3). Of course, these quick-fix longings are never satisfied. Always,
another toy must be had. Once the drink
is finished, something else will be needed just as urgently. These sinful cravings can only be satisfied by submission to the
authority of God and seeking forgiveness from his Son.

This truth, the necessity to submit to God, is the only
effective way to address the demanding sinful desires within your  children. When you confront your children with
biblical reality, you are in fact speaking pleasant words and bringing pleasant
knowledge to their souls. The use of the rod is an integral part of this
process of teaching God’s authority. The material in Shepherding a Child’s Heart is without peer in this regard.

Remember, your words of both instruction and rebuke to your
children must communicate this wonderful truth. By bringing God’s truth to your
young children, you are indeed bringing the most pleasant and important
knowledge that they could possibly hear. This reality should dominate your
thoughts when the inevitable confrontations come with your children. Even when
you must speak firmly or administer discipline, you are bringing the grace of
God to your children. Pleasant words promote instruction even when the
instruction is painful to receive. This is what James 1:20 teaches – man’s
anger will not produce the righteous life that God desires. So, even when
communicating correction to your children, your words should flow from
gratitude to God for placing you in the position to lead them to the mercies of

This perspective allows you to be firm and calm when
disciplining your children. When your exasperation overflows, you make the
issue about you and your inconvenience, and not about God. Your frustration communicates to your
children that obedience is to please parents more than to please God.

[Am I saying that anger is never appropriate? No. Godly
anger at sin is appropriate. I am
talking about how anger should be expressed. Anger never justifies the loss of
self control, and angry punishment never represents the loving discipline of
the heavenly Father. More on this
another time.]

One common reason why parents get frustrated with their
young children is that they attempt to reason with them rather than require
them to submit to God as their authority. Young children tend not to respond well
to reasoning. Why?  Because they already
know the reasonable answer! What they want is
the reasonable solution to their problem.

How does your daughter respond when you ask, “Wouldn’t you
like to let your sister play with the doll now?”  This is an unreasonable request! If she wants
to play with the doll, why should she give it up?  You repeat the question with rising irritation.
“Heather, you’ve had the doll for a long time, wouldn’t it be nice to let
others have a turn?” Heather is frustrated because she wants what she wants and
you are making an unreasonable request based upon her view of reality. No it wouldn’t be nice to give up the doll,
because then she wouldn’t have it anymore!

Mom is frustrated because Heather is being selfish and, in
Mom’s eyes, unreasonable. So both parent and child are frustrated with the
unreasonableness of the other. Finally, Mom says, with overflowing frustration,
“Heather give that doll to your sister right now or you will get a spanking!” Based upon Heather’s understanding of her
Mom’s tone, she may reason that to avoid a spanking she will give the doll up.
But what has happened here is not biblical obedience and instruction. Heather
has lost a power struggle for the moment but she has not obeyed God; she has
merely done what is reasonable. In her way of thinking, she has done the
reasonable thing – she has avoided a spanking. Mom walks away thinking, I just can’t get through to this child. She
just won’t listen to reason.
The message of the Gospel has been lost in the
murky waters of focusing on performance and behavior.

The time for reasoning comes later, after you have
established a strong base of reality according to Scripture. Until then, with young children you want to
establish that the authority of God must reckoned with — your young child is
accountable to that authority. As your children grow older you appeal to their
conscience and begin to reason with them to embrace God’s truth. Then, with
teenagers, there is the realistic opportunity of appealing to reason, based
upon the foundation that has been laid.

Too often, the reverse pattern happens. Parents don’t
address the heart issue of authority with young children. A child like Heather
is constantly placated, and attempts are made to reason with her. Then, when
she becomes a teenager with shocking and unacceptable behavior, the parents
crack down with authority. Sadly, though, a basis for this authority has not
been established and the results are not pleasant.

Think about the implications of this post. I will give an
example of positive interaction with Heather in the next post. In the meantime,
let me know your thoughts.

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