What’s the secret of a successful marriage? And what makes a good parent? Those are two of the biggest questions in life. Even if you are not married yourself, or have no children of your own, I hope you want our society to benefit from stable marriages and happy families.
In the Western world, we live in an age when ‘family values’ are increasingly uncertain. In these uncertain times we need guidance from God for family life. Husbands and wives need God’s help on how to strengthen their marriages. And parents need his help to raise their children well.
And so today we are looking at Proverbs to discover God’s guidance for families. In fact, family life is arguably ‘the’ dominant theme of Proverbs. Its first chapter contains instructions from a father to his son, while its final chapter contains a detailed description of the ideal wife!
We’ll begin by looking at what Proverbs has to say about married life, and then we’ll see what it has to say about parenting.
- Marriage: Companionship, chemistry and commitment
There are lots of jokes and sayings about the secret to a successful marriage. One says that a husband who wants a long and happy marriage “should keep his mouth shut and wallet open”. And GK Chesterton once said, rather sombrely: “Marriage is an adventure – a bit like going to war!”.
Fortunately God’s Word is not so pessimistic about marriage! The book of Proverbs certainly believes that a good marriage is a great blessing. For example, Proverbs 31:10 says that a good marriage is “worth far more” than precious jewels. A closer look at Proverbs tells us that there are three marks of a successful marriage – companionship, chemistry and commitment.
So the first is companionship. Proverbs says that husband and wife should be close companions, soul mates. For instance, Proverbs 2:17 describes a spouse as your “partner”, your closest friend. So Proverbs challenges us to spend quality time with our spouse, to communicate openly with one another, to share life’s joys and challenges together. To be true companions on the journey of life.
Proverbs also says we should cultivate ‘chemistry’ in a marriage. A successful marriage should include emotional and physical intimacy – a touch of romance, you might say! Husband and wife should not let their love run cold, or forget the feelings they had for one another when they first wed. Listen to these words of advice from the author of Proverbs 5:19 – “May you rejoice in the wife of your youth…may she satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” So chemistry, as well as companionship, should be a characteristic of a healthy marriage. Your spouse is entitled to your emotional support and affection.
Thirdly, and finally, Proverbs says a successful marriage includes commitment. This inspired book tells us that marriage is to be a lifelong commitment, a permanent partnership between husband and wife. Faithfulness for life is God’s model for marriage – for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Proverbs chapter 6, for example, describes adultery as the height of foolishness, as nonsensical, as one of the worst examples of a lack of wisdom.
So whether or not you yourself are married, please pray for those who are. Please pray that they will grow in their companionship, chemistry and total commitment to one another.
- Parenting: Training & disciplining our children in love
Those of us who are parents know that our children can sometimes test our patience, keep us awake at night and batter our ear drums during the day. But in our more reflective, less sleep-deprived moments, I hope every parent recognises that our children are a blessing – a precious gift from God. Parenting really is a privilege and an awesome responsibility.
Our reading from Proverbs 23 this morning said that the parents “of a righteous child” have “great joy”, and that “a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.” And Proverbs 17:6 adds that “grandchildren are a crown to the aged”.
Proverbs sees two primary tasks for loving parents. Two key duties that every wise parent should perform if they want their children to grow up well.
The first is teaching. Proverbs says parents are to take primary responsibility for teaching our children what is right and wrong, for showing them what is true and false, and for introducing them to the Lord.
• For example, at the very start of the book, in chapter 1, children are told to “Listen to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching”.
• Proverbs 22:6 advises parents with the words: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it”.
• And Proverbs 14:26 reminds parents that: “Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children he will be a refuge”.
If you are a Christian parent or grandparent, I hope it is your number one ambition for your children that they grow up to know and love the Lord Jesus for themselves. I hope it is your intention to model Christian behaviour at home, to teach your kids how to pray and read the Bible for themselves. And once we are able to gather again, I hope you will want to show your kids that Church is a weekly priority for God’s people.
As well as teaching our children, Proverbs also tells parents that they should not be afraid to discipline their offspring in love. You see, Proverbs does not have a naïve or idealistic view of children. It knows that they sometimes need correction and chastisement as well as instruction. Proverbs recognises that our kids are fallen and struggle with sin – just like the rest of us. This truth is summed up in Proverbs 22:15, which says “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but…discipline will drive it far away.”
Without appropriate discipline, Proverbs warns parents that our children can become wayward. Their bad habits can become character traits, their occasional bad behaviour can become the norm. As Proverbs 19:18 says: “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their destruction.” And Proverbs 13 says that the parent “who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
So Proverbs tells parents to take seriously their responsibility to train their children in goodness and godliness. And, as we heard in our reading from Proverbs 23 this morning, children should listen to their parents and learn from them. Wise children love and obey their mother and father, good children ‘honour’ their mum and dad!
So I hope we’ve seen this morning that family life is God’s invention. He wants our families to flourish. And in the book of Proverbs, he has given us guidance on how we can make our marriage work, and instruction on how we can parent our children wisely.
So as Christians let’s pray that God’s Spirit will give us the qualities we need to make a success of our marriages and be effective at our parenting. Let’s pray for his forgiveness for those times when we’ve been a poor spouse or a bad parent. Above all, as we think about our families, let’s ask God to pour his love – as well as his wisdom – into our hearts!