FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Teaching Your Child to be Wise

with John MacArthur | May 19, 2008
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Are you raising wise children? Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with best-selling author and pastor, John MacArthur, about teaching your children to be wise.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Are you raising wise children? Today on the broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with best-selling author and pastor, John MacArthur, about teaching your children to be wise.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Are you raising wise children?

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Teaching Your Child to be Wise

With John MacArthur
May 19, 2008
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Bob:  The Bible says that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, and one of our jobs as parents is to teach our children to be wise instead of being foolish.  Here's Dr. John MacArthur with a practical definition of wisdom.

John:  Real skill in living is living according to the Manufacturer's design.  And the Maker is God, and he has given us the manual on maximizing living.  And that's really what we want to do as parents.  We could call it "sanctification."  It's the process of taking a child, leading that child to the knowledge of Christ, and then teaching them how to live according to God's will.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 19.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Dr. John MacArthur joins us today as we provide wisdom for parents who want to provide wisdom for their children.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  And I have to tell you something about our guest, who joins us on today's program.  Back in 1979, I had been a Christian for just a couple of years and had been recently married.  And every day my commute to work was a half an hour long, and it just so happened that the half hour I was driving was when Grace to You was on our local Christian radio station. 

And so every morning for five years, I would listen as Dr. John MacArthur would teach the Bible.  And not only that, but I started getting tapes sent to me from the Grace to You tape lending library and listened to dozens of other messages in addition to what I was listening to on Grace to You as I would drive around on my job during the day. 

And so in the early years of my Christian life, I was really discipled in the faith and came to understand a lot of what I understand about the Bible because of the ministry of Grace to You.  And I think that probably explains a lot about why I am the way I am today, don't you think?

Dennis:  I think it does.  And John, I'm not sure how you should take that.  I'm just going to be silent on that one.  Our listeners know Bob pretty well, and they may be wondering about your ministry at this point.

John:  Well, since I don't know him very well, I can just feed that with good thoughts.

Dennis:  You can.

Bob:  That's right.

Dennis:  And you should, because he's a quality man.  Well, that voice is one that's familiar to many of our listeners, because they listen to your broadcast, Grace to You.  John, you're also the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.  That's a tough place to do duty out there, but someone's got to do it.

John:  That's it.

Dennis:  He has written a book called "Successful Christian Parenting."  And I'm excited about this book, because it is, at its core, Biblical.  I mean, you'd come to expect that from John MacArthur, obviously.

John:  That's right.

Dennis:  And today on the broadcast, we really want to focus on something that's spoken of out of Proverbs 24.  It says, "By wisdom a house is built."  And I want to stop right there, because I want us to focus – as you do in one of your chapters – on imparting wisdom to our children.

John, how would you define "wisdom" for a mom or a dad who's listening right now, who wants to impart it to their children?

John:  I think in the broadest sense, the Hebrew concept of wisdom, which is really what's behind the Biblical term "chokam," which is the word, is the idea of being skilled in living.  And real skill in living is living according to the Manufacturer's design.  And the Maker is God, and he has given us the manual on maximizing living. 

And that's really what we want to do as parents.  We could call it "sanctification."  It's the process of taking a child, leading that child to the knowledge of Christ, and then teaching them how to live according to God's will.

Dennis:  Do you think Christian parents are raising wise Christian young people today?

John:  Some, but certainly not all.  And I think that parents are frightened about the fact that their children are not wise, that they're being overpowered by the media and by everything that's hammering into their minds and even by secular educators, et cetera, as well as peer pressure.  And I think they are hearing so many different sounds and so many different authorities that they really aren't even sure where you go to get the straight stuff to teach wisdom.

And what I'm trying to do in the book is just call them back to the bottom line, which is the Maker, the Manufacturer, the Creator, our great God has laid out the strategy.  He has defined wisdom, not just in broad terms, but in very specific and narrow terms, and He's given us a manual and we can teach it to our kids.

Dennis:  John, you and your wife raised four children.

John:  Right.

Dennis: You undoubtedly faced challenges, obstacles, as a couple, as you went through the process of attempting to impart wisdom from the Scripture to your children.  I think sometimes your listeners, our listeners, tend to put those of us who teach the Scripture on a pedestal, and they don't see us as having the same common battles that they have, but we do.

What were some of those obstacles or challenges that you and your wife faced as you sought to teach wisdom to your children?

John:  Immediately several things come to mind.  One is the fact that my children were unconverted and depraved at first.  That is a huge obstacle.

Dennis:  And related to me as a result.

John:  Yes.  And you know what, I'm a teacher and preacher of the Word of God, but my children are fallen.  That's just the way it is.

Dennis:  Right.

John:  But the biggest barrier was to bring my children to conversion, because they're not going to have the receptivity, they're not going to have the ability – the Holy Spirit-given ability – to process that and to desire that wisdom which comes from God until they've come to know Christ.  That was the first barrier.

The second barrier, I would say in all honesty – and it's heightened for a preacher, not lessened – and that is to live what you teach.  You know, my wife always has held me to everything I preach.  And believe me, my kids have done the same.

Dennis:  Really.

John:  And you might think that it's an advantage – and in some ways it is – to be the preacher, because I've literally taught my children the Bible from the pulpit as well as in the home.  But that has elevated the standard in my own life to the point where I, I have to confess that I haven't always been able to live to the max everything I've preached.  That's a problem.

Dennis:  Yes, it is.

John:  That's a problem, because there's an integrity issue there.  And the kids, watching with that scrutiny to see whether what Dad passionately proclaims and holds others to, lives it in his own life.

Dennis:  Do you ever recall a time when you had to go to your children and confess something they'd seen you live out in front of them that was – well, it was a mistake.  It was wrong.

John:  Oh, of course. 

Dennis:  Give us an illustration.

John:  Losing sort of self-control and getting irritated at the kids and lashing out, you know, at them when they, when they raised my frustration level.  And maybe it wasn't so much what they were doing, but they were interrupting what I was doing, and so I overreacted to what might in other conditions have been a minimal thing.

Dennis:  You actually were impatient?

John:  I was, yes.

Dennis:  Did you hear that sigh of relief?  Do you hear it, John?

John:  I was impatient and I, and you know, I live with words.  I, basically, my craft is I'm a wordsmith.

Dennis:  For good or for bad, too.

John:  And I can slice pretty well into the little heart of a kid in ways that are significantly memorable.  I mean, I make a career out of being able to communicate in memorable terms, hopefully.  And there are things I said in times like that, that I questioned whether they would ever forget, but I would go back.  I can think of a number of occasions, and I just said, "You know, I just need you to forgive me.  I misjudged.  I overreacted."  Sure.  I mean, I've done what every parent has done.

Dennis:  You know, who hasn't?  And I was thinking of recently, I lost my temper with my children.  Interestingly enough, while doing a good thing.  I was evaluating a movie we'd been to that was a pretty good movie, and I was just talking about the theme of love and how it was demonstrated from Hollywood's perspective.  And I wasn't really speaking to a receptive audience and ended up having to go back to all of my daughters and ask for forgiveness at the end of the evening, because I blew it.  I blew it. 

But I think God uses those times when we blow it to teach our children that it's the contrite heart, the broken heart over sin, that ultimately becomes the wise – the wise man or the wise woman.

John:  I think having patience – I tend to be so far down the road of my understanding of Scripture, so far down the road because I've experienced things that my kids haven't yet experienced.  And I've also experienced everything everybody around me in my ministry's experienced, because I've had to absorb that to deal with it.  So I've got this wealth of data, and I'm really into – I'll tell you all you need to know about that in 15 seconds.

Dennis:  Right.

John:  And the kid can't even get into the situation to sort of feel how they might react to it.  So I have to really work on just backing off – I'm not talking about sin issues, but just the normal processes of life, making wise decisions, doing what is best in a given situation of options.  I just have to continually restrain myself and not get frustrated when I think they're going down a path that maybe they don't need to go down, but let them go a little ways until they find out what's there and maybe make the adjustment themselves.

Dennis:  You know, you've mentioned it many times.  You taught your children from the Bible, and one of the primary books you taught from was the Book of Proverbs, and you pass along several lessons that you learned from the Book of Proverbs that you wanted to instruct your children in.  In fact, you said, "There are 10 lessons that I wanted to pass on to my children from Proverbs that I didn't want them to miss." 

And the first one was so fundamental.  Share that with our listeners.

John:  Proverbs lays these out in the opening chapters for every parent to teach their children.  And again, I'm such a Biblicist – I'm so committed to the text – because I think God has given it to us for instruction for our lives and the lives of all we influence.  And it all starts in Proverbs with this great overarching concept of fearing God.  "Teach your children to fear their God." 

That's the primary issue.  That starts out with salvation.  The Scriptures are able to make you wise unto salvation.  You remember the Apostle Paul said to Timothy, and Timothy had learned that from a child, from his mother and his grandmother.

So fearing God starts with knowing God.  You can't worship Him, you can't reverence Him, adore Him, praise Him, honor Him, obey Him, unless you really know him.  And so that's where all of our instruction began.  And I've always felt as a parent that my primary responsibility was to lead my child to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  That I was basically the most vital – along with Patricia, my wife – the most vital evangelist in their life.  I was the greatest influence for the Gospel they would ever know.

Dennis:  Yes.

John:  And that was the great challenge – teach them to worship God, to adore God, to love God, obviously coming to know him through Christ.

Dennis:  You know, I was struck as I read through Proverbs one summer by the fact that we're instructed to fear the Lord throughout the book.  Nowhere does Solomon say, "Teach your children to love Christ or to love God."  But "teach them to fear Him" is all through that.  Where is there the absence of the idea of loving God, do you think, in Proverbs?

John:  Well, I think it's embodied in the true and pure concept of fearing God.  It's embodied in reverence.  There's an adoration there.  There is a, there's a sense of awe that transcends what we would define as love, which is some kind of a feeling, some kind of an emotion.  I think that the picture of God as the glorious, great sovereign Creator, God, that ought to be just coming out of every text at some point, so that God is the one being honored and reverenced.

Dennis:  There's a second way that you talk about passing on wisdom to your children, and boy, is it relevant.  We're talking all around it here.  You say we should teach our children to be wise by teaching them to guard their hearts.  That's straight out of Proverbs 4:23.  "Guard your heart, for from it flow the wellsprings of life."

John:  And the heart is a Hebrew term for "mind."  It's the seat of thought.  Fearing God is number one, and number two is guard the child's mind.  And this is so critical.  I mean, you can't just let them sit and watch anything they want to watch.  You can't let them spend their time with just any group of people that they choose to spend their time with.  You have a parental responsibility to guardianship over their thinking in those early years.  And I think you have to be very, very involved in what goes into those impressionable minds.

Bob:  At the same time, you're concerned about the number of parents who are developing isolationist approaches to parenting.  They're so concerned about guarding their children's minds that they're trying to keep them away from any influence for evil.

John:  Yes, and I think that you can obviously overdo that kind of thing.  I do take the viewpoint that we do protect our children.  There are some things I would not expose my children to.  But these, some of these people in these parenting processes that get a little over, out of balance on this, they want to protect their children from people who don't hold their view of parenting.  That's a little bit of a different approach.

I want to protect my children from the corrupting moral influences.  For example, an adult can say, "Well, I'll go to a certain movie and I can see a certain thing and it doesn't affect me."  But when it's 18-feet-high or 25-feet-high screen, and you've got a 12-year-old kid in there watching people in some kind of sexual, sinful behavior, this is a massive impression on a young mind battling all kinds of other issues in the life that maybe, you know, we're a little more used to battling.

But primarily guarding the mind, I think, is a function of the knowledge of the Word of God.  And so we wanted, from the beginning, poured into our kids' minds the Bible.  Every breakfast, we got up for years and years and we read the Bible.  We read through a book called, "Leading the Little Ones to God," which is a theology, basically, and we interacted on theology.  We read missionary biographies.  We read the whole story of Adoniram Judson.  We read twice through the children's version of "Pilgrim's Progress."  We did it once, and the kids wanted to go back and do the whole thing all over again.

Because in the end, what protects the child is not that you don't ever let them get any bad information in, but that you fill them with what is true, and that itself becomes the protection.

Dennis:  Yes, and one additional thing I think parents do is they provide that protection with boundaries and limits around their children's lives.

And John, I'm going to ask you to help me for a moment.  I received a letter from a counselor here on the broadcast, and this particular counselor took me to task and called me a "Pharisaical legalist" for building some of these boundaries around our children's lives.

Now, is it legalistic for a parent to draw these boundaries around their lives?  Now, we're not talking about choking a child down, where they're protected like Bob was talking about.  But what is legalism at its very core?  Because I think parents fear, if they do have boundaries around their children's lives, that those boundaries are going to equate into our children rejecting Christianity and feeling like they grew up in a legalistic faith.

John:  Well, that's a huge question, just a huge question.  And there's so many approaches to it.  But let me just say this.  You have to have boundaries for your children.  You absolutely have to.  That's parental responsibility.  And frankly, everybody does.

Dennis:  Right.

John:  Everybody.  You're not going to let your kid go play in the freeway, you're not going to let them play with matches and dynamite and knives.  Everybody has boundaries.

Dennis:  Right.

John:  And nobody, nobody wants to argue about physical boundaries.  Nobody wants to argue that it's not appropriate for an eight-year-old to take the car out for the weekend.  Nobody wants to argue about things that are going to harm them physically.  I don't know why it's so irrational to debate the suitability of setting moral boundaries, or setting spiritual boundaries.  I mean, those things are even more important.  It's not what you do to hurt the body, Jesus said, it's what, it's the soul that is the issue here.

Dennis:  Yes, right.  Right.

John:  I think it's absolutely critical to establish boundaries.  And I'll tell you the first boundary that we endeavored to set for our children was that we were going to be involved in who they were playing with and who they were associating with.  One of the real key things in our life in raising our children was to be a part of the selection process of their companions, because this to me was a really very, very strong influence in their young lives.  And we took a strong role in that, because we wanted – we felt before God, we wanted to be responsible to God for the kind of influences that were coming into their lives.

There are other boundaries that we established.  We didn't let them watch certain things on television and movies and obvious things like that.  That didn't retard them at all.  That helped them to shape good thinking patterns – Biblical thinking patterns – in those very impressionable years, and not clutter their minds so that they were fighting unnecessary wars inside that they weren't mature enough to handle.

Dennis:  So it's okay to say no to certain things like that?

John:  Oh, it's absolutely necessary to say no to certain things that are harmful.

Dennis:  And I think the average Christian parent needs to hear that today, because I think at points they don't feel the freedom to push back on that for fear they're going to be so different that they're again promoting a legalistic kind of Christianity.

John:  But Dennis, there's a context for that, and the context for that is you have to have a genuine, honest, unhypocritical relationship to Christ to sustain that. 

Dennis:  Right.

John:  Because if you're not living the life you ought to be living as a Christian, you're not honoring Christ, and your life isn't right before God, that stuff is just hypocritical.  And that's when kids chafe against that.

But if you're passing on to them a standard that you live by in a context of love and affirmation and grace and forgiveness, then it's believable.  And they can see the fruit of it in the joy and blessing in your own life.

Dennis:  I was really looking forward to asking that question, because I thought I knew how you'd answer it.  And you mentioned the key word, which is what I felt like was the answer to this woman who had written me this hot letter.  The key word was "relationship." 

A legalist is someone who holds to do's and don'ts that have nothing to do with the living Lord Jesus Christ, his grace and mercy in your life, experiencing Him, walking with Him, and flowing from that life that you've experienced because you're abiding in Him.  I think Christians today, if anything, don't have enough definition, enough boundaries, around their lives because they're afraid of depicting this. 

And I think if we're going to call our children to the right stuff today, I think – just as you said, John – we're going to have to call them to a Biblical standard around morality, movies, and the issues they face as young people growing up.

Bob:  You know, we've been talking about these things long enough that you begin to recognize that over time, there are trends that occur.  There are new theories or new ideas that pop onto the scene as it relates to parenting.  And one person says you ought to do it this way, and then five years later, here's the next new parenting specialist, and then somebody else five years after that.  And their ideas contradict one another, and there are debates about who's right and who's wrong.

But the great thing about the truth of Scripture is that it does not change, that it doesn't get trendy.  That there's not some new theory that comes along five years from now to replace what the Bible teaches.  There may be a theory that's advanced, but it doesn't replace what God's Word has to say about our responsibilities as parents. 

And John, you've written a book called "What the Bible Has to Say about Parenting." That's a book that we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and it's a great, comprehensive guide for moms and dads to understand what's at the core of what God would have us do as we raise the next generations, as we raise our children.

If our listeners would like more information about John's book, you can go to our website at, click on the right side of the home page, where you see "Today's Broadcast" in a box.  You click to where it says, "Learn More."  That will take you to an area of the site where there's information about the book by Dr. John MacArthur called "What the Bible Has to Say about Parenting." 

And then let me also recommend Tedd Tripp's excellent book for parents called "Shepherding a Child's Heart."  Both of these books together will give a mom and a dad a game plan for how you are to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

And again, there's more information about both of these volumes on our website at If you order both books, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD that features our conversation this week with Dr. John MacArthur.

So again, the information is on our website at  Or if you'd prefer to order by phone, you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.  1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800, F as in Family, L as in Life, and then the word "TODAY," and someone on our team will make arrangements to have the books that you need sent out to you.

You know, for the last several years the youth group at our church has been selling these coupon books that give you a "buy one, get one free" deal at local restaurants or other local merchants.  And I always buy one of these coupon books, because I figure I'll more than make back my money after I redeem about three or four of these coupons.  And besides, I'm helping out the youth group at the same time, right? 

Well, this month FamilyLife has our own two-for-one offer that has been made available to us.  We've had some friends of the ministry who have come along and said, "We will match every donation that you receive at FamilyLife during the month of May on a dollar-for-dollar basis."  It's a two-for-one.  When somebody makes a $50 donation, these folks will make a $50 donation of their own, so that we'll receive a total of $100.  And the same's true if somebody makes a $100 donation or a $200 donation.  They will match that donation on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

We're hoping to take full advantage of this special matching gift opportunity during the month of May, and the days are starting to wind down, and if you've not gotten in touch with us, either online or by phone, to make a donation, can we ask you to consider being as generous as you can be this month to the ministry of FamilyLife Today so that we can take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity?  You can donate online at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make your donation.

And again, let me say thanks in advance for your partnership with us in this ministry.  We appreciate your support of FamilyLife Today, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Tomorrow we're going to continue our conversation with Dr. John MacArthur about our responsibility as parents, and I hope you can be with 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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