In the Bible our Lord has seen fit to teach us the wondrous Gospel of Salvation in many different ways. One of those ways of instruction is by means of the parable. A parable is generally defined as an earthly truth that sets forth a heavenly reality. Our Lord Himself has established this relationship between the earthly and the heavenly when He said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto…” By means of such instruction in His Word not only do we come to understand the heavenly, but we are made able to understand God’s purposes for the earthly aspects of creation which are used to explain the heavenly. There is as it were a reciprocal relationship of learning.
Another method of instruction our Lord uses which is similar to the parable in that there also exists a reciprocal relationship is the use of the analogy. Personally, I have found in the study of the Scriptures that when the Bible uses analogies that compare human relationships to our relationship to God, not only does one grow in spiritual knowledge of God, but the human relationship, one to another, grows in love as we are instructed: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The earthly-human family relationships which we experience are a picture of the heavenly relationship we have with God. However, we must note that such earthly relationships are only pictures of the heavenly. They are imperfect at best. Deformed and marred with sin, manifested by: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking with all malice (Eph. 4:31).
An example of an analogy between an earthly family relationship, which is a picture of the heavenly reality that is set forth for us in the Bible, is adoption. Although similarities do exist especially in the legal aspects, there are differences because of sin. Consider the following: When parents adopt an infant child, that child’s emotions toward its parents are neutral. There is neither love nor hate. And through much love and nurture the parents can only hope that the child will grow to love its parents in later years. But there is no guarantee the child will love its parents in the years to come. However, spiritual adoption is different in this regard. When we became the adopted children of God, our emotions toward God were not neutral. We by nature hate God, and would resist Him in all things. But God conforms us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). God makes us love Him by the power of His grace. And not only that, we are made to look like Him, though in principle now, fulfilled when we see Him face to face in Glory. This is something earthly adoption cannot do. Therefore, we must always keep in mind the limitations the analogy may contain in comparing the earthly to the heavenly. And those limitations may never be set by our minds, but only by the Scripture Itself. By allowing the Scripture to guide and instruct us in this area of family relationships as a picture of our heavenly relationship to God as Father we will become better equipped to deal one with another and thus fulfill the Law of Love.
The most striking analogy our Lord uses to teach us the fundamentals of our relationship to God as His children and that is also the cornerstone of the Christian home is found in Ephesians 5:1&2. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” Over the years I have read many books and articles, and have heard many good sermons on such topics as the necessity for discipline in the home, parental involvement in our children’s instruction, and ways in which to become a better God-fearing parent. But all of this I believe to be subservient to the basic truth our Lord instructs us here in this text: to walk in love. If we as parents or expecting parents fail to apply to our hearts the teaching of this text as the foundation of our Christian homes, then discipline or instruction or even the development of our children will be impaired or made less effective. For this reason I feel compelled to share with you some thoughts regarding this text and how I as a parent try to apply this truth in the family relationship.
The earthly analogy we have here in Ephesians 5:1 is not very apparent at first glance, but with the use of a concordance the clarity can be improved. The word “followers” literally means imitator; the Greek word being mimetes from which we derive our English word mimic. And the word “dear” literally means beloved; the Greek word being agapetos, the Latin equivalent being amore from which we derive our English word amorous: to be overflowing with love. Therefore, we may read the text as: Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children. What! Imitate God! How is that even thinkable; we who are sinful and inclined to all evil, imitate the Holy, Perfect, and only Just God in Whom is no darkness. But that is what we are instructed to do. And the earthly analogy being used here: do children imitate their parents? And if so, why? What is their motivation to do so?
To properly understand the analogy present here in this text we must first begin with the earthly example. Yes, contrary to today’s mind-set in which children even at a young age are encouraged to be their own individual self, do and will imitate their parents; if they have the assurance of their parent’s love. What was an assumed-to-be-true fact of life during the lifetime of the apostle Paul, is not so in today’s society for various reasons. Young children are taught in school and encouraged toward self-expression so that the child’s creativity and developmental processes are not hindered by parent(s)’prejudices. And parent(s) have their own self-interest in careers and recreational activities. In short, the entire traditional family structure has been undermined at the cost of society’s future children.
Even though our Christian families are not faced with these evils there are dangers we do face in that we oftentimes do not allow our young children to imitate us as parents. We must always keep in mind that fact that a child will imitate his parents as an expression of love. He wants to be like father because he loves him. Or she wants to be with mother because she loves her. The desire of the young child to be with father or mother and to imitate their parents is rooted in reciprocal love. Father and mother express their love to the child in many different ways, but the child only knows one way; that of imitation. The problem arises when the parents are not aware of this fact. It seems as though the child will do things at the most inconvenient moment or at the most unlikely place and the result is oftentimes expressing our anger instead of approval for knowing that our children love us.
In that we must strive not to discourage our children when they imitate us, we must always take the time to control and guide such acts of imitation. For example, let’s say a father, being observed by his young son, has just finished pounding a nail in the wall to hang a picture. The father places the hammer sown and goes to get the picture to be hung. Upon his return, he discovers that his son is in the process of pounding holes in the wall. The son expects his father’s approval; he receives his wrath. And if this situation repeats itself, the child will learn not to imitate; not to express love. Therefore, parental control and guidance are imperative not only for the physical well-being of the child, but also for his development and nurture.
In the example stated, if the father had controlled the environment and guided the activity of his son, the results would have been much more favorable. The father should not have left his tool where his son could reach it. And if the son expresses a desire to pound, too, let him: but where such activity will cause no harm. We must keep in mind that the attention span of a young child is short, and the short time it takes to allow our children to express their love toward us is well worth the investment. Never look upon our children’s activity of nature as being an inconvenience, but rather an investment. Take time to assure them of your love.
As stated earlier, it is the nature of a young child to express his love by means of imitation. Yet, a child does not limit his expressions of love only to the parents; other brothers and sisters are also recipients. This fact is important for our young people to keep in mind if they have younger brothers or sisters. There are places to go, things to do, and people to see, and in the business of life the young brother or sister is left out or pushed aside. Not now, maybe tomorrow, are excuses too often heard. Rather, take time, make the investment. Not only love your brother or sister, but let them express their love to you. Never think of their actions in terms of your convenience.
Not only is a child’s imitation an expression of love, it is also the primary means of learning in young children. All physical activity: walking, talking, eating and social behavior are learned by imitation. And more importantly, so is spiritual activity learned by imitation even at a young age. This is learned not only from the child’s parents, but also from the older brothers or sisters, our young people.
“Therefore”: this word of Ephesians 5:1 brings us back to the preceding chapter’s verses 31 and 32. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you with all malice.” In short, the apostle is saying: stop your fighting and bickering. When parents fight one with another and the child observes this; he is learning. When older brothers and sisters fight and speak evil of one another and the young brother or sister observes this; he is learning. And he will imitate. This is the nature God has created in children. Learn by observation, perfect by imitation. Or, do we as parents and young people set forth the example that we read in verse 32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Possible? Yes. We are called God’s beloved children, adopted in Christ Jesus through His one complete and perfect sacrifice to God, accepted as a sweet smelling savour. Easy? No. Our sinful nature strives to dominate us in all that we do. But in as much as we experience God’s love toward us through His work of salvation in us we are exhorted to imitate God by the way of His instruction to us in verse 32: be kind one to another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Do this and you walk in love. Do this and you imitate God!
Just think of it. If we as God-fearing parents and young people seek to imitate God by being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving one another and our young children see and imitate the same, then we truly will have Christian and covenant homes.
We have often heard it said “don’t do as I do, but do as I say.” The instruction our Lord gives us in this text is just the opposite: do as I do and do as I say. Without the consistency of word and deed, discipline, admonitions and instruction has little effect and often leaves our children confused and discouraged. But consistency is profitable. If you confess to be a Christian, then act as one, not only to the adults of the church, but also to your children and brothers or sisters.
* Rich Peterson is a member of our Grandville congregation where he has served as elder and is currently the superintendent of the Sunday School and correspondent secretary of the church extension committee. He has seven children from teen to toddler. He is a graduate of our Protestant Reformed Pre-seminary and has attended Seminary. Later he graduated from Hope College with a B.A. in Psychology and pursued his master’s in Business Administration and Industrial Psychology.