When the Bible addresses child rearing directly, it is most frequently in terms that refer to “training” or “teaching.” Following the thread of these two words in the Scriptures leads to a wealth of information. Even the English word discipline, which is related to disciple, carries connotations of teaching and training. When we think of Jesus’ disciples, we think of men who sat with Him, listening to instruction that was given in the context of great affection and concern. The men trained by Jesus had strong emotional ties to their Teacher and were eager to soak up what He taught. Jesus said He loved them and that His Father also loved them (John 13:1; 14:21; 17:24).
He also connected the concept of obedience to love. “If you love Me,” Jesus is recorded as saying, “keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The Bible describes a choice between two possible patterns of relating: one that comes more naturally to us, which leads to hatred, disobedience, selfishness and conflict (Jeremiah 17:9; 2 Timothy 3:1–5; Galatians 5:19–21) and one that takes mindful practice and leads to love, obedience, generosity and peace (Psalm 34:14; 119:165; Romans 13:8–10; 14:17; Galatians 5:22–23).
When families fall into negative patterns of relating, it can be easy for parents to place the full responsibility on the child’s disobedience. Yet the apostle John writes that we love God (and, by extension, follow His rules) because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). Parents also have the responsibility of laying the foundation for a positive family atmosphere by making it clear that their children are loved and by teaching them in such a way that they avoid provoking their children to discouragement, anger or bitterness (Colossians 3:21; Ephesians 6:4).
Scriptural examples support the principles of offering encouragement and praise as part of a teaching process. The Bible is replete with promises that God helps those who stumble (see, for instance, Psalm 37:23–24). An example of a father’s praise for his son is found in Matthew 3:17; Matthew records a voice from heaven saying at the time of Jesus’ baptism, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Parents are to train their children in the right way of living (Proverbs 22:6), but what is that way? Jesus summarized the commandments by saying they teach love for God and love for other people (Matthew 22:36–40). If the Way is one of love (Acts 24:14–16), then the implication is that this is what parents should be teaching children. It is, in fact, this quality that identifies Jesus’ followers (John 13:34–35) and will qualify them to stand before God without blame at Jesus’ return (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13).