Godly parenting requires far more than tips and techniques. It begins with knowing God. It’s not merely a matter of external effort and method, but involves reflecting our heavenly Father to our earthly children through our love, care, and discipline.
The fatherhood of God establishes the foundation for all human parenting, and two key passages of Scripture are pillars for Christian parents and for considering in what ways in particular we should imitate our Father in our parenting.
The first is Ephesians 3:14–15, where there is a play on words. The words patēr (father) and patria (family) in Paul’s prayer show that the fatherhood of God is the archetype of human fatherhood: “I bow my knees before the Father [patēr], from whom every family [patria] in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14–15).
God is the origin of every family that exists, and through procreation parents enter spiritually into experiencing what it means to give life. The very notion of parenthood is therefore grounded in God and who he is as Creator: He is the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
The second is Hebrews 12:7–9. Here we see that as fathers and mothers, we can relate to God on a deeper level because we can enter experientially into what it means for parents not only to procreate but also to become sustainer, provider, and protector.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? (Hebrews 12:7–9)
“Godly parenting requires far more than tips and techniques. It begins with knowing God.”
We should conceive of parenting as grounded in God’s own essential being and role as Father. Specifically, this realization and reality have the potential of transforming our experience and exercise of discipline on our children. God disciplines his children — that is, believers — in love. It’s because of his love for us that he disciplines us the way he does. He disciplines us because he cares for us very deeply.
While in this passage the author uses human parenting as an illustration for the way God acts as parent, he also affirms the kind of fatherly love we should have for our children. God’s love is exemplary: We should take our cue from the way God loves and cares and disciplines. What’s more, the entire analogy presupposes that there’s an affinity in nature between God and earthly fathers — that, as fathers, we reflect the way God acts as our Father.
Three Ways to Copy Our Father
Parenting, then, flowing from our reflection on the fatherhood of God, isn’t merely a matter of external effort and method, but rather reflecting God’s own love, care, and discipline for our children. Which, among others, means at least three important dimensions of our parenting if we are to do it God’s way.
Parenting necessitates being present with our children. The entire story of Scripture is bound up with God’s presence with us. He created us to live in it and enjoy it. Then, after the fall, humans were expelled from it. Through redemption in Christ, we’re reconciled to God and restored to live in it.
In the same way, parents procreate children who grow up in their presence. At first, an infant is utterly dependent on her mother’s care. Over time, children’s need for their parents’ presence changes, but they continue to need instruction and guidance. Even when children are grown, parents can be present with them through the characteristics they instilled in them while they were young as well as through their ongoing relationship.
Second, parenting requires affirmation. The first words recorded in the Gospels spoken by the Father to the Son are words of affirmation: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). The Greek word for child-rearing, paideia, is not limited to parental discipline but is an all-encompassing word for training and nurture (2 Timothy 3:16).
“Parenting necessitates being present with our children.”
Paul urges fathers not to discourage their children, or provoke them to anger, but rather to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of Christ (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Our vision of parenting, then, should not be narrow, in terms of just discipline, but broad, in terms of encouraging and affirming our children. Godly parents reflect their Father by telling their children often that they’re deeply loved and that we’re very pleased with them.
Finally, to put a finer point on affirmation, godly parenting means actual delight in our children. As John Piper counsels parents,
Let the dominant tone of the relationship be one of delight in your child. Let him feel cherished and admired and enjoyed, not just corrected and instructed. Otherwise, he’ll feel that you’re just using him for your private ease, not his good.
Jesus welcomed children with open arms (Matthew 19:14; Luke 18:16) and went against the grain of his culture to commend childlikeness (Matthew 18:2–4). As we take our cue as parents from God, our heavenly Father, we learn to parent God’s way by imitating our Father. Nothing is more important for godly parenting than knowing God. As we reflect the one who is present, who affirms, and who delights, we will learn to fulfill and enjoy the awesome and humbling calling of parenting like our Father.
Andreas Köstenberger (@akostenberger) is the founder of Biblical Foundations, serves as research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Margaret Köstenberger is the author of Jesus and the Feminists and co-author (with Andreas) of God’s Design for Man and Woman. Their recent book is Equipping for Life: A Guide for New, Aspiring, and Struggling Parents.