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By Wisdom a House is Built

with | May 20, 2008
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How can parents pass wisdom onto their children? On today's broadcast, well-known pastor and teacher, John MacArthur, tells Dennis Rainey what parents need to be teaching their children now if they are to become wise adults someday.

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  • How can parents pass wisdom onto their children? On today's broadcast, well-known pastor and teacher, John MacArthur, tells Dennis Rainey what parents need to be teaching their children now if they are to become wise adults someday.

How can parents pass wisdom onto their children?

By Wisdom a House is Built

May 20, 2008
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Bob:  During the years when your children are little, is there a "job one" for parents – the thing you need to be most concerned about?  Dr. John MacArthur thinks so. 

John:  The primary responsibility of the parent is to teach a child obedience. That's how you protect order in the family, that's how you pass on order in society.  That's the main issue.  And, of course, it really – God's design is that that work in a context of divine wisdom, so that what the parent is asking the child to do in terms of obedience conforms to the standards which God has established in the Word.

[Begin music]  Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.  Lord, I love you.  Please help me to trust and obey. [End music]

This is FamilyLife Today.  Not Grace to You, as you may have thought when you first heard John MacArthur on today's program.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we'll talk with Dr. MacArthur about what the Bible says about wisdom for parents.

[Begin music]  Lord, I love you.  Please help me to trust and obey. [End music]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  We are talking this week about our responsibilities as parents and about passing wisdom along to our children.  And thankfully, we don't have to lean on our own understanding as parents in order to find the source of wisdom.  In fact, the source of real wisdom is found in the Scriptures.

Dennis:  We would be in trouble if we had to rely on our own depraved human heart.

Bob:  That's the truth.

Dennis:  You know, yesterday, Bob, you got to introduce our guest on the broadcast, who as soon as he speaks, our listeners are going to recognize his voice.  Many of them hear his broadcast daily right here on this station. 

But I heard John MacArthur speak at National Religious Broadcasters January 26, 1997.  And John, I don't often write down what other people say in my Bible – specifically, a quote.  But you told a story about sitting next to a guy on an airplane who asked you what you did.  And I have the quote of what you told him in my Bible, because I thought, "You know what?  That's a great answer."  And so what did you tell the guy who asked you what you did?

John:  Well, you know, I used to say, "I'm a preacher," and people would change their seat, you know, because they didn't want to get stuck next to a preacher.  So I said, "You know, I have a great job.  I travel around and tell people God will forgive all their sins."

Dennis:  Yes.

John:  "Are you interested?"

Dennis:  Isn't that great?

Bob:  That is great.

Dennis:  So right in my Bible, I've got a quote here – "I tell sinners that God forgives sin."  Man!  Is there a better job?

John:  That's what Second Corinthians 5 is all about, right?  Being reconciled to God.

Dennis:  And that's where it's written, right there.  And John, I appreciate that message you gave, and I appreciate that new definition of my job that I've had a chance to use.

Well, John MacArthur is the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.  He is the President of the Master's College and Seminary and featured teacher on Grace to You.  And he's written a book called "Successful Christian Parenting."  And yesterday we talked about Proverbs 24, Verse 3 – "By wisdom a house is built."  And we're talking about how to pass on wisdom to our children.

And yesterday we talked about, first of all, we teach wisdom by teaching our children to fear God.  Secondly, we teach wisdom by training our children to guard their hearts.

And John, you say there's a third way we teach wisdom to our children, and that's when we teach them to obey their parents.

John:  Yes, that's a big one, because you know, when you get to the New Testament and you're looking for parenting instruction, you have to go to basically one passage or two – Colossians and Ephesians, where it says, "Children, obey your parents and the Lord, for this is right and this is the first commandment with promise."  That is the primary responsibility of a parent, is to teach a child obedience.  That's how you protect order in the family, that's how you pass on order in society, that's how you pass righteousness from one generation to the next generation.  That's the main issue.

And, of course, it really, God's design is that work in the a context of divine wisdom.  So what the parent is asking the child to do in terms of obedience conforms to the standards which God has established in the Word.  So in teaching my child to obey me, the larger component is I'm teaching my child to obey God.  I'm not always going to be there.

Dennis:  Right.

John:  And so what standards I hold for my child, and the frame of reference in which I'm asking my child to be obedient to me – both in terms of attitude and action – the larger context is, this is a reflection of what I believe God desires for that child.

Dennis:  But teaching your children to obey can take two or three days, can't it?

John:  Yes, sure.  It can take two or three decades, actually, I suppose.  Yes.

Dennis:  You know, John, you have four children.

John:  Right.

Dennis:  Undoubtedly, there was an occasion when one of them disobeyed you.  Now, I want to ask you…

John:  It happens, yes.

Dennis:  It does happen.  I want to ask you on national radio, did you ever spank your children?

John:  All the time.  All the time.  I mean, that's what the Bible says.  The Bible says, it's pretty simple, "Teach your children to obey," and the command you give them and the direction you give them for obedience is reflective of the larger context of God's will as revealed in Scripture.  And when they don't obey, spank them.

Dennis:  And what do you say to that group of new theologians that are on the scene who say, "But the rod that's spoken of in Proverbs was a rod that was meant to nudge or guide.  It was never meant to be used in such a hostile, abusive manner, to spank them.  That's such a barbaric activity."

John:  I think that's a silly interpretation of the Scripture, particularly if you think of the fact that the Lord chastens, and he chastens severely.  And we all know how severe his chastening is.  And that's the model.  He chastens every son.  He sets the pattern for us.  In fact, the Apostle Paul in the First Corinthians 4 said, "You decide whether I'm going to come in love or with a rod."  A pretty fierce threat.  And then in Chapter 13, he says, "And if I come and find you people in sin, I'm not going to spare anybody.  Even Jesus will rule in His kingdom with a rod of iron."  I think when you see a rod in Scripture, it is meant to be a threat to pain.

The Proverbs also encourages the parent by saying, "If you go ahead and do this, he shall not surely die."  In other words, this is going to be corporeal.  This is going to be painful, but it's not going to be life-threatening.  But I think it does imply the idea that there's going to be some pain involved – something, hopefully, far short of death.

Bob:  Now, with a lot of counseling, your children have recovered from this abuse, haven't they?

John:  Well, you know, so well that they're just doing it to their kids, too.

Dennis:  You know, we laugh here today, but truthfully, I predict in the next decade, this is going to be another one of these Christian standards that falls under severe attack, even within the Christian community.

John:  That is happening.  I just heard, however, two days ago, on the television, a new psychological behaviorist coming out and advocating spanking.  So there may be a rebound out there somewhere with some people who realize this whole thing is so far out of control, this might not be a bad idea.  It may cycle back.

But there will always be, I think, a growing resistance toward that, because we're in a continually liberating mindset.

Bob:  And let's be clear.  Spanking was not the only thing you did in the face of disobedience, right?

John:  No.  It was the only physical thing we did.  I mean, I don't think it does any good to shut your kid in the closet or put him in a box or take a time-out or, you know, make him stand facing the wall.  The Bible simply says, "Spank him."  It's immediate, it's quick, it's just like the Lord said, if even dealing with criminals.  If justice came swiftly, we would retard that whole process.  I think you don't want to drag it out.  You don't want to say to them, "Now next Tuesday, when I get home, you're going to get it."  You don't want to create fear over a prolonged period.  And I think it's done reasonable and it's done with love and it's done with a certain amount of broken-heartedness, I think it's…

But I think that is what the Scripture says.  It's aversion therapy, to borrow a psychological term.  The kid decides, you know, "This is painful.  I don't think I want to do this, because the consequences are swift and I don't like them."

Dennis:  And so to that young mom or that young dad who's feeling like the culture is taking away his courage to be able to spank his child in private, with love – obviously cuddling them and teaching them and instructing them and hugging on them after you've taken them through the process of discipline – it's okay.

John:  It's okay.  And I'll say something else, too.  I really feel – and I don't want to normalize this – but in our situation, with my children and with my kids' kids, it seems as though there's a "siege period," when that gets a little more intense than it – it's not just a normal course of things.  You know, there's a period of this sort of concentrated rebellion.

Dennis:  Yes.

John:  And a parent says, "You know, I've spanked my child about four times a day for about three days.  Is it going to be like this for the rest of his life?"

Dennis:  Right.

John:  And you're going to find out that there's a huge, there's a huge leap.  You plateau at that point.  Finally the kid gives in.  You need to hang in there and be faithful in that.  Get through that siege time, and maybe a year or six months later or two years later, you'll hit another such time, maybe even – I don't how the intervals necessarily work in every situation.  But it seems though it comes in waves, when that rebellious heart strikes out.

Dennis:  Yes.

John:  And digs in.  And if you can win that battle, and the next battle, and the next battle, you'll look back and say, "I didn't spank my child incessantly for the first nine years of their life, but boy, there were some times and some periods when we had that battle.  And by God's grace, we got through that, and we can see the fruit of it."

Bob:  You mentioned yesterday on the broadcast that you and Patricia were involved in selecting, or helping to select, the companions that your children had.  Proverbs speaks to that.  Did that continue through their teenage years?

John:  It sure did.  In fact, in my book I talk about, "Teach your children to select their companions."  I remember my high school son – you know, he's just a great guy – my oldest son, Matt, a wonderful kid, just a great kid.  Never a problem at all.  But he, he started to get very enamored with a girl in high school.  And she was a sweet girl and a cute girl.  But I just felt this was too son.  You know, he was like in the tenth grade, and so I sat him down one day and I said, "You know, Matt, you just, I'm just going to have to ask you not to spend time alone with her."  And he didn't understand that, because he hadn't really done anything, at that point, that was severe.  But, I mean, I knew where the thing had to go.  It could only go one direction.  And I just said, "It's going to stop right now."

And later on, a couple of years, he wanted to date her, and he did.  And I didn't feel that she was the kind of girl – although she was a Christian girl – that would be best, you know, in his life and his future.  And while I'm not the matchmaker, necessarily, I reserve veto power in every case.  And I just said, "You know, it's over."  And I remember him just weeping over that, because he was so emotionally attached.  And that was at the high school level.  But I felt, as a parent, I knew far more about what life held in that area than he ever dreamed.

And now, of course, God gave him an absolutely precious wife, and he thanks me incessantly for that incident, which was so painful at the time.

Dennis:  John, I've got to stop you there, because you said something very profound that I think parents – I don't think they believe, or they have a difficult time embracing it and hanging onto it.  You said you knew better than a teenager about some of the issues of life.  That's what taking place in the Proverbs.

John:  Right.

Dennis:  Solomon is teaching his son about life and how to be a wise man about it.  And I think what happens is the enemy comes in, and we begin to see these adult-looking young people who start shaving, they start having the habits of adults, but they're still not mature.

John:  Right.

Dennis:  And they need us involved, John.  And that's what you provided for your son.  Who knows what you protected him from by stepping into his life at that point?

One of the other things you talk about as you point people to the Proverbs, that the Proverbs helps parents protect their children in, is you say, "Teach your child to control his lusts."  How did you do that?  How did you teach your children to control all the youthful, impetuous immorality that can occur as they're growing up?

John:  Well, I think first of all, again it goes bad to a godly life, a godly example.  You know, I mean, I needed to control my own, in my own life.  One of my sons said to me one day, "Dad, I hope you never fail in a moral way.  I don't know if I could ever survive that."

Dennis:  Wow.

John:  So I wanted to be what my kids expected of me to be in terms of my moral life.  And then I really think the key was just pouring the Word of God into them.  I mean, it's right back to what David said, "Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin."  Or what does Ecclesiastes say, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth." 

I wanted my kids to be so God-conscious.  I wanted them, when I wasn't even around, to be aware of the presence of God.  I wanted them to live, to practice the presence of God.  I wanted them to understand that – and I gave them lectures on this kind of thing, about the fact that, "He that is joined to the Lord as one spirit, would you, one in Christ join yourself to a harlot?"  First Corinthians 6.  Are you going to take Christ and join him to a, are you going to engage in something that drags Jesus Christ into that?

I tried to teach that to them and to hold up that standard relentlessly, to confront them with that kind of thing.

And then evaluate the world around them.  I think you can do that just sort of off the cuff as you go through life.  You react by saying, you know, "That's so dishonoring to the Lord," just commenting on something that passes by the screen or something you see on a billboard, or you know.

Dennis:  The way a woman's dressed.

John:  Yes.  You know, just any of those kinds of opportunities to help them.  And then get around them people who lift them up.  In other words, I don't expect my kid, my 15-year-old, because he's in my family and because he's a Christian, to be the spiritual conscience of everybody else and go out in the midst of a bunch of unbelievers and try to elevate. I think that's a tough, tough deal.

What I wanted my kids to do was to hang around the kind of kids who really had the same commitment they did, and you could influence the other kids.  But the core group needed to be those kind of people that lifted you up.  And we talked a lot about, "Be with people who lift you up.  Be with people who elevate you spiritually." 

Bob:  There has never been a time, I don't think – maybe there has in the history of man, but certainly not in this country – when controlling your lusts has been assaulted the way it is in our culture today.  And for young people growing up, the bombardment of the culture is antithetical to what the Scriptures teach.  It makes it very difficult.

John:  You know, some years ago I wrote a book called "The Vanishing Conscience," which I think, personally, was one of the most important things I ever did in my life.  Because I don't know that I understood the conscience.

Ultimately, all spiritual battles are fought at that most intimate level.  People say to me, "You know, John, we'd feel bad if you bombed out, you know, and ran off with a church piano player or something, and we'd feel awful about that.  Do you have accountability?"  Look, I've got accountability.  I've got people with expectations of me that aren't even realistic, and they live right around me. And I've got a wife, a wife, you know, who literally holds me to the highest spiritual standard, is a very, very devoted lover of Jesus Christ.  And I've got kids with the highest expectations.

But the battle is inside.  And they don't know what I think.  They don't know the personal issues of my own heart.  Only God knows my heart.  That's why Paul has set such an example for me.  When Paul was defending his apostleship in Second Corinthians 1:12, he said this – "My conscience is clear."  Wow.  I mean, that's – and repeatedly he would say that.  You know, from the first day on, "I have a clear conscience."  I have, I can look in my heart and before God, I can say, "I have nothing that I am cultivating in my life that is producing shame in my conscience."

That's where the battle has to be fought.  I use an illustration of a plane that crashed in Europe, because the pilot heard the signals, "Pull up.  Pull up.  Pull up."  And on the black box, he said, "Shut up, gringo."  He was, it was a Spanish airline.  "Shut up, gringo," and flipped off the warning system and flew into a mountain.

The warning system that God has given us is the conscience.  And it says, "Pull up.  Pull up.  Pull up."  But it has to be informed.  And the radar informed the black box that the mountain was there. 

What you give your children is the right information.  The moral system of the Word of God.  And then you make them very sensitive to the conscience.  Wesley wrote a great hymn on the conscience I've never heard sung, but it was a great hymn.  He prayed through this hymn that God would give him a conscience, the impulse of which would immediately trigger penitence and aversion when his conscience went off.

And I've tried to teach my young people, "Don't ever train yourself to avoid to your conscience.  Listen to that sensitive, sensitive voice, and when it says, 'Pull up,' know that it's being informed by the truth of God and respond."  And it's inside that that battle really has to be won.

Dennis:  And the single most important thing you did to shape your children's conscience was?

John:  Two things.  One was to inform it accurately.

Dennis:  With the Scripture.

John:  With the Scripture.  So the conscience is only a device that reacts to whatever your moral system is.  You've got to have the right moral system.  You inform it.

Secondly, you don't let them ignore it.  You teach them to listen to the conscience.  When they feel guilt, remorse, shame, there's a reason.

Dennis:  How do you teach them not to ignore it?

John:  Well, by just reinforcing that to them.  Just reinforcing that if you train yourself to ignore your conscience, you'll fly into a mountain.  It's destructive.  It's the device – God has given you pain to warn you you've got a physical problem.  It's a good gift, pain.  God's given you conscience to warn you you've got a spiritual problem.  Don't silence the voice of God in conscience.  It's well informed because you've been taught the Word of God.  Listen so that you don't crash and burn.

Bob:  You know, we've been at this two days with this guy, and I've got it figured out.  You ask him any question, he just says, "It gets back to the Word of God."  I mean, it doesn't matter what you ask him.  He just keeps saying it goes back to the Word of God.  We don't need to talk to him anymore.  We just…

John:  I'm hopeless, aren't I?

Dennis:  And it gets back to parents who are living this Book themselves and passing it on as their assignment to their children.  And you know, frankly, it is a challenge to be a parent today.  I don't want to make it out to be easy, because I'm not done yet, and it drives us to our knees frequently.  Barbara and I talk about it regularly.  We are in discussion continuously as we talk about how to point our children back to Christ and how to get this Book into their lives.

But frankly, if we didn't have this Book, I don't know what hope we would have to offer this generation or the next generation that's growing up.

John:  Just a footnote to that – every once in while I see these bumper stickers that say, you know, "I'm the proud parent of a kid who was student of the week at such-and-such a…"  I've never been driven by that.  I've always looked at my children and been driven by the fact, "What could these young people be if they were all Christ wanted them to be?"  That's kind of the driving thing for me.

Dennis:  And that's a great goal for any parent to have for their children.

Bob:  That's what John says in Third John, talking about his spiritual children.  He says, "I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the truth," and that's obviously true for us as parents. There is no greater joy that we experience than the knowledge that our children are doing what God calls them to do, that they're living according to God's standards, that their heart is fully His and that they love Him and want to obey Him.

And when we start the parenting process with that end goal in mind, it helps shape how we parent and what we emphasize and how we prioritize, and we work more on shaping our child's heart than we do on simply modifying their behavior.  That's one of the things you point parents to in your book, "What the Bible Says about Parenting," which is a book that we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center, written by our guest, Dr. John MacArthur.  This gives parents a philosophy of parenting, a Biblical look at how we are to raise the next generation.

Along with your book, we want to encourage our listeners to consider getting a copy of Tedd Tripp's book, "Shepherding a Child's Heart."  If you've got both of these books together, I think it does give a mom and a dad a pretty comprehensive overview of what our assignment is as parents, and you'll find both of these books in our FamilyLife Resource Center. 

When you go to our website,, on the right side of the screen, where you see the box that says, "Today's Broadcast," click where it says, "Learn More," and that will take you to an area of the site where's there's more information about the books that we've talked about by John MacArthur and Tedd Tripp.  And if you order a copy of both of those books, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD that features our conversation this week with Dr. MacArthur.

Again, our website is  Or if it's easier for you to order by phone, call 1-800-FLTODAY.  1-800-358-6329, and someone on our team will answer any questions you have about these resources or make arrangements to have the ones you need sent to you.

You know, this month we've been making sure that our listeners know about the matching gift opportunity that has been made available to us.  This is kind of like double coupon day at the grocery store.  When you make a donation this month of any amount, we have some friends who are going to match your donation dollar for dollar.  They have agreed to do that up to a total of $635,000.  And we're hoping that we'll be able to take full advantage of their generosity this month.  But to do that, we've been asking listeners all month long to help us with a donation of any amount so that we can accomplish that goal. 

And I want to encourage you today.  If you're a regular listener to FamilyLife Today, if God has used this program in your life, maybe you've been to one of our conferences or used our resources or relied on our website.  If God's using this ministry in your life in any way, would you consider making a donation of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  And do it today so that, again, we can take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity.  You can donate online at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make your donation over the phone. 

We appreciate your financial support, we're grateful that you listen to our program, and we look forward to hearing from you.  Let me say thanks in advance for your support of our ministry. 

Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to talk about how we raise our children to love God.  And, in fact, Susan Hunt is going to join us to talk about how we can teach big ideas about God to very young children.  I hope you can join us for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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Episodes in this Series

Raising Girls Day 1
Teaching Your Child to be Wise
with John MacArthur May 19, 2008
Are you raising wise children?
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