A father passed by his son's bedroom and was astonished to see the bed nicely made up and everything neat and tidy. Then he saw an envelope propped up on the pillow. It was addressed, "Dad." With the worst premonition, he opened the envelope and read the letter with trembling hands:
It is with great regret and sorrow that I'm writing you. I had to elope with my new girlfriend because I wanted to avoid a scene with you and Mom. I've been finding real passion with Joan, and she is so nice. I knew you would not approve of her because of all her piercings, tattoos, tight motorcycle clothes, and the fact that she is so much older than I am. It's not just her passion, Dad. She really gets me.
Joan says that we are going to be very happy. She owns a trailer in the woods and has a stack of firewood—just enough for the whole winter. We share a dream of having many children.
Please don't worry, Dad. I'm 15 and I know how to take care of myself. I'm sure we'll be back to visit someday so you can get to know your grandchildren.
Your son, Chad
P.S. Dad, none of the above is true. I'm over at Tommy's house. I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than the report card that's in my desk drawer. I love you! Call when it is safe for me to come home.
If you want to know why fathers get gray hair, that's why. Parenting – in fact, family life in general – can take it out of you, and it requires large mounts of wisdom and perspective.
We've been looking at the book of Proverbs, and I think you'd agree that if we need wisdom in any area, we certainly need it when it comes to our family life. Families are like the graduate school of spirituality. We can fake it at church. We can largely fake it at our workplaces and even with our friends. But marriage and parenting leave us no room to hide. Our true characters are revealed with those who are closest to us. It's in our families that we encounter some of our greatest joys, but it's also in our families that we are stretched like we're stretched nowhere else.
I speak from personal experience. My family has been an incredible gift from God. It brings me great joy, and when I'm away from my family I miss them terribly. Yet my family has also been one of the most challenging areas of my life. In my family I have been confronted with my selfishness and my sin. It's where I've learned that I am not the center of the universe, and that I have faults that I didn't even know existed. It's also where I've been stretched in ways that I can't even begin to describe, and I'm still being stretched. It's rewarding yet it's incredibly challenging, and I'm just getting started.
I also speak from counseling experience. In over 17 years of pastoring I've encountered many families who have been equally stretched or more, sometimes to the breaking point.
So I'd like to look at what Proverbs says about families this morning. This affects all of us, even if we aren't currently living within a family. Even if you're not in a family, you can use this to help your children and grandchildren and friends as they deal with some of what we're going to talk about.
Proverbs tells us about the challenges of family life, and then it points us to the best ways to meet these challenges.
First, let's look at the challenges of family.
What I really love about Proverbs is that it is very realistic in how it portrays family life. For instance, listen to the realism as it describes what marriage can be like when it's not going so well:
Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (21:9)
A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping
of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;
restraining her is like restraining the wind
or grasping oil with the hand. (27:15-16)
And those are only two verses. Some of you husbands are feeling pretty smug as you read those, so let me say that they are equally applicable the other way. Proverbs was written with a male audience in mind, but it goes both ways with equal force. Women can legitimately read this and say, "Better to live in a corner of the roof and face the forces of nature without protection than to share a house with a quarrelsome husband. A quarrelsome husband wears you down like constant dripping, and is as unsteady as the wind and as slippery as oil." In other words, when marriage isn't going well, it's really hard. Most every married couple here could testify to this. Being a sinner, and being married to a sinner, can push us to our limits and beyond. In fact, look how damaging a bad marriage can be:
A wife of noble character is her husband's crown,
but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones. (12:4)
Notice the balance here. A good marriage enhances life; a bad marriage deeply affects one's life in the most profound way.
And then there's children. Proverbs is also very realistic about children. In fact, one proverb combines the challenges of marriage and children:
A foolish child is a father's ruin,
and a quarrelsome wife is like
the constant dripping of a leaky roof.(19:13)
It acknowledges that children can go wrong and become a source of sorrow, not joy, for parents:
Foolish children bring grief to their father
and bitterness to the mother who bore them. (17:25)
There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers… (30:11)
It even says that there are children who rob from their parents. You need to hear the realism of Proverbs. Family life will not necessarily be easy. Both marriage and parenting can be very difficult, more than we could imagine. The reason is because of sin. The reality is you are in a family, you are a are sinner – the apostle Paul would say the worst of sinners – waking up with other sinners. That's going to be hard.
That means a couple of things. If you're single or you haven't yet had children, I don't want you to have an unrealistic view. It will be hard. You have to know that up front. And if you're going through struggles in your family life, then take comfort. When we recognize the core problem is sin, and not just sin in others, but sin in my life – then we're on the right track. Because Proverbs also gives us some resources to deal with the challenges of family life.
The first resource is wisdom.
To successfully manage the challenges of the family, we need wisdom. I'd like to break it down to a few different life situations.
Single – If you're single and want to get married, then the choice of a spouse is incredibly important. You play a role, but to be honest, picking a good spouse is beyond all of us. Nobody really knows who they're marrying. Lewis Smedes said that his wife had been married to five different men, and all of them had been him. If you're single, Proverbs teaches you that a good spouse can only come from God:
Houses and wealth are inherited from parents,
but a prudent wife is from the Lord.(19:14)
A wife of noble characterawho can find?
She is worth far more than rubies. (31:10)
Since Proverbs was primarily written to single men, its emphasizes the importance of choosing a spouse with the greatest of care, because the stakes are high. There are few decisions that you will make that are more important. Never just run into marriage. Use all the wisdom and discernment you can muster before you get married. But even then, a good spouse is a gift from the Lord. This drives us to prayer. A good spouse is a gift from the Lord. If you have one, by the way, you should praise God for the incredible gift he's given you.
Married – What about those of you who are married? Proverbs 5 tells us:
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love. (5:18-19)
What you need to remember as you read this is that people did not generally marry for love when this was written. People married for security, status, and children. You didn't marry for love; that came much later. Women were looked down upon and had little recourse when their husbands looked elsewhere for sexual pleasure.
But Proverbs tells us something completely different. It tells us to guard our marriages; to find pleasure and even become intoxicated by your spouse; that your spouse is not just a legal partner, a housemate, the parent of your children. He or she is part of a relationship that can be easily lost, and that must be nourished and protected so that it is a source of joy and pleasure for both of you.
You may say, "Fine and good, but you don't know my spouse." You're right, I don't. This doesn't mean it will be easy. It certainly doesn't mean that there won't be confrontation. In fact, it's unloving not to confront someone, because loving someone means helping them and helping them sometimes means that we confront them. There are some situations that are so hard that you will need to get help, and there are other situations in which we must place boundaries.
But for most of us the command we have is to protect and nourish our marriages so that they become sources of mutual joy. This won't happen automatically. It will take very deliberate effort. If you're married you need to figure out how to romance your spouse, and the crazier life gets and the more children you have, the more important this is. We can ask, "If you knew I wouldn't get angry, what could you tell me about how to be a better husband? A better wife?" Those of you who are married: protect and cultivate your marriage. Wisdom for singles is to choose your spouse carefully, and wisdom for those of us who are married is to do everything you can to protect and cultivate your relationship.
Parents – Our culture tends to see the problem as outside of us and that the solution for what's wrong is inside of us. When we apply this to children, we tend to think that our kids are fine, and our job is to bring out what's inside of them and to improve their self-esteem so that they can fully express who they are. A lot of us think that our role is to let our children express what's inside of them.
That would be a great view if we weren't sinners. Proverbs is honest with us: people left to their own natural tendencies are bad and will only get worse. It's like your garden. If you let it grow wild, you'll end up with a weed patch. What we need to do actually requires more skill: to pull out the weeds but to let what's good to grow. Countless proverbs say things like:
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline will drive it far away. (22:15)
A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom,
but children left to themselves disgrace their mother. (29:15)
Discipline your children, and they will give you peace;
they will bring you the delights you desire. (29:17)
There would be two mistakes we could make as we read this. One is to become too harsh and dominant with our children, so that we fail to nurture them and we pull out not only weeds but what's good. This view is wrong because these verses do not provide license for abuse. The discipline here is not out of anger or hate or a desire to harm. It's out of concern for the well-being of the child.
The other mistake we could make is to be to be so lenient and permissive that we don't discipline at all, and pretty soon everything is weeds. Both would be tragic. Being overly permissive or overly harsh with our kids is equally wrong.
Some of us are much too hard on our children. We've never taken the time to stop yelling, to sit down and carefully listen and ask, "How are you doing? What's on your mind?" Some of us are far too lenient and we've never loved our children enough to say, "This has to stop. For your own good you cannot do this." Proverbs gives us the wisdom to realize that our children are sinners, and that they need wisdom and discipline from their parents if they are going to grow to be wise.
This is what it means to be a wise single person, a wise spouse, a wise parent. Family life is hard because of sin. It requires wisdom. Wisdom for a single person means choosing a marriage partner carefully. Wisdom for a married person means protecting and nurturing the marriage. Wisdom for a parent means lovingly correcting our children to help them improve.
The results are found in Proverbs 17:6:
Children's childrenare a crown to the aged,
and parents are the pride of their children. (17:6)
When this goes right, then entire families bring glory to each other. Grandchildren become joys to grandparents. Children take pride and joy in their parents. In other words, families can become sources of blessing to each other in a way that impacts multiple generations.
So let's review. Family life is challenging because of sin. Wisdom helps us meet the challenges of family life. It will lead single people to be discerning, married people to be protective and nourishing within marriage, and parents to lovingly correct their children.
All of this is good, but it's not really enough. There's one more resource that we need, and we see hints of it in the book of Proverbs when it talks about families.
To meet the challenges of family life, we not only need wisdom, we need the gospel.
Listen to these proverbs:
Those who fear the Lord have a secure fortress,
and for their children it will be a refuge.(14:26)
The righteous lead blameless lives;
blessed are their children after them.(20:7)
There comes a time when we must realize that the biggest problem isn't the other sinners in my family. The biggest problem in my family is me. You see, the problem with my family is, frankly, me. I need to change more than they do. The same is probably true for you. It's not to say that the other people in your family aren't sinners. They're definitely sinners too. But your main problem is that you're a sinner, and you need changing.
That's why I'm glad Proverbs takes us here. Remember that fear of the Lord means learning our place – who God is and who we aren't? Proverbs teaches us that for our families to be really blessed, we need to understand who God is, who we are, and then run to God as our security. We need a heart change so that we become truly righteous within our inner core. When we do this, our children will be blessed, and they will have refuge as well.
The best way for us to meet the challenges of family life is to recognize the extent of your sinful nature. Rather than defeating you, it will cause you to run to Jesus – not just once but repeatedly. Jesus took our place and bore our sins on the cross, and he provides us with forgiveness and help in our daily struggle with sin.
The more we see our sin and the vastness of God's mercy, the more we'll own up to the ways that we negatively impact our families. The more we'll run to the cross with gratitude for what he's done for us. And the more we run to the cross, the more humble and loving we'll become towards the other sinners that God has placed within our family. We'll love them with some of the same love that God extended to us.
Father, I pray for every single person here. Guard them. Help them to make the right decisions. If it would be your will, guide them into marriage with a spouse who will be a gift from you and a blessing in their lives.
Give your wisdom to the married couples here. Help them to protect and nourish their relationships. I pray that some of them would have honest conversations about how they can do this as a result of what we've read in Proverbs today.
Give us wisdom as we parent our children. Help us to love them and correct them. May we neither be too harsh nor too lenient. Help us to lovingly correct them as you do to us.
Most of all, help us to see the greatness of our own sin, along with the greatness of your grace. And may it cause grandparents, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, and children to run to the cross, and there find all that we need in Christ to live within our families. In Christ's name, Amen.