The Power of Parental Love - Dive into Love Bible Study #8

Parental Love – Love Bible Study #8

Pastor Duke Taber

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Introduction

Parental love is one of the most profound and influential forms of love in the human experience. It shapes the lives of children, molds the dynamics of families, and reflects the heart of God in unique ways. Throughout the Bible, we see examples of parental love in both its joys and its challenges, from the nurturing care of Hannah for her son Samuel to the heartbreaking pleading of David over his wayward son Absalom.

In this Bible study, we will explore the nature of parental love as depicted in Scripture, focusing particularly on two key passages: Proverbs 22:6, which exhorts parents to train up their children in the way they should go, and Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the Prodigal Son, which illustrates the depths of a father’s love for his child. As we delve into these texts and the broader biblical teachings on parental love, may we gain wisdom, encouragement, and guidance for our own roles as parents or spiritual mentors.

Whether you are a parent, grandparent, or simply someone who desires to understand and reflect God’s love more deeply, this study is for you. May we approach it with open hearts and minds, ready to learn from the perfect love of our Heavenly Father.

Parental Love - Love Bible Study #8

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The Importance of Parental Love

The Bible consistently emphasizes the crucial role of parents in the lives of their children. In the Old Testament, God commands His people to pass on their faith and values to the next generation: “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NKJV).

In the New Testament, parents are exhorted to bring up their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). This mandate reflects the high calling and weighty responsibility of parenthood. Children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3), entrusted to parents to steward, nurture, and guide in the ways of righteousness.

Parental love is meant to be a reflection of God’s love for His children. Just as God is patient, kind, and long-suffering with us, parents are called to express these same qualities to their children (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). And just as God disciplines us for our good, parents are to train and correct their children in love (Hebrews 12:7-11; Proverbs 3:11-12).

When children experience consistent, godly love from their parents, it lays a foundation for their emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. It helps them to develop a secure attachment, a positive self-image, and a receptivity to the love and truth of God. Conversely, when parental love is absent, distorted, or inconsistent, it can leave deep wounds and hinder a child’s ability to give and receive love in healthy ways.

Ultimately, the goal of parental love is not just to produce well-behaved or successful children, but to point them to the love of Christ and to equip them to live out their God-given purpose. As 3 John 1:4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” May this be the desire and the fruit of our love as parents and spiritual mentors.

Reflective Questions:

  1. How have you experienced the impact of parental love (or lack thereof) in your own life?
  2. In what ways can parental love reflect the love of God to children?
  3. What do you think it means to bring up children “in the training and admonition of the Lord”?
  4. How can parents keep the ultimate goal of pointing children to Christ at the forefront of their parenting?

Training Up a Child (Proverbs 22:6)

One of the most well-known verses on parenting in the Bible is Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This simple yet profound principle has encouraged and guided parents for generations, offering both a promise and a responsibility.

The Meaning of “Train Up”

The Hebrew word translated as “train up” is “chanak,” which literally means “to dedicate” or “to initiate.” It was used to describe the dedication of a new house (Deuteronomy 20:5) or the inauguration of a new altar (Numbers 7:10). In the context of parenting, it suggests a deliberate, intentional process of shaping a child’s character, beliefs, and habits from an early age.

This training involves more than just imparting information or enforcing rules. It is a holistic process that engages the heart, mind, and will of the child. It includes instruction, discipline, example, and nurture, all within the context of a loving relationship.

The Way He Should Go

The phrase “in the way he should go” can also be translated as “according to his way” or “in keeping with his individual bent.” This suggests that the training should be tailored to the unique personality, gifts, and needs of each child. A wise parent seeks to discern and cultivate the God-given bent of their child, rather than trying to force them into a predetermined mold.

At the same time, the “way he should go” is not just any path the child chooses, but the way of wisdom and righteousness. Parents are to guide their children in the ways of the Lord, teaching them to fear God, love others, and walk in obedience to His Word.

A Promise and a Responsibility

The second half of the verse offers a beautiful promise: “when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is not a guarantee that every child who is trained in godliness will never stray or make mistakes. But it does suggest that the early training of a child has a powerful, lasting impact that can guide and anchor them throughout their lives.

However, this promise is not unconditional. It assumes a consistent, faithful training on the part of the parents. It also recognizes the child’s own responsibility to embrace and walk in the truth they have been taught. As a parent, our role is to plant the seeds of faith and character, but ultimately each child must choose whether to nurture and live out those values in their own lives.

Practical Ways to Train Up a Child

So what does it look like to “train up a child in the way he should go”? Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Model godly character and behavior: More than what we say, children are shaped by what we do. As parents, we must strive to live out our faith and values consistently, humbly acknowledging our own failures and pointing our children to the grace and forgiveness of Christ.
  2. Teach biblical truth: From an early age, children need to be immersed in the stories, principles, and doctrines of Scripture. This can involve reading Bible stories, memorizing verses, discussing biblical concepts, and applying God’s Word to daily life situations.
  3. Pray for and with your children: Prayer is a powerful tool for shaping the hearts and lives of our children. We should pray regularly for their salvation, character, relationships, and future, and invite them to pray with us as well.
  4. Provide loving discipline: Discipline is not punishment, but training. It involves setting clear boundaries, consistently enforcing consequences, and lovingly guiding children towards wisdom and obedience. As Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”
  5. Encourage their unique gifts and interests: Each child is fearfully and wonderfully made by God, with specific talents, passions, and personality traits. We can affirm and nurture these by providing opportunities for exploration, growth, and service that align with their natural bent.
  6. Foster a home environment of love, security, and open communication: Children thrive in homes where they feel loved, accepted, and free to express themselves. By creating an atmosphere of warmth, laughter, and honest sharing, we invite our children to experience the safety and joy of family as God intended.

Training up a child is a high calling and a daunting task, one that requires wisdom, patience, and reliance on God’s grace. But it is also a profound privilege and joy to shape the next generation for the glory of God and the good of others.

Reflective Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to “train up” a child in a holistic way?
  2. How can parents discern and nurture the unique “bent” or giftings of each child?
  3. Which of the practical suggestions for training up a child resonates most with you, and why?
  4. How have you seen the promise of Proverbs 22:6 play out in your own life or the lives of others?

The Father’s Love (Luke 15:11-32)

Perhaps no story in the Bible illustrates the depths of parental love more poignantly than the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. This beloved passage, told by Jesus Himself, showcases the mercy, compassion, and unconditional love of a father towards his wayward child, and serves as a powerful picture of God’s love for us.

A Son’s Rebellion

The parable begins with a shocking request. The younger of two sons demands his share of the inheritance from his father, essentially wishing his father dead and rejecting his authority. Remarkably, the father grants the request, allowing the son to make his own choices and face the consequences.

The son soon squanders his wealth on wild living in a far country, indulging his sinful desires and severing his ties with home. When a famine hits and he is reduced to desperate poverty, he finally comes to his senses and decides to return home, hoping to be welcomed back as a hired servant.

This portrait of rebellion is a picture of the human condition apart from God. Like the prodigal son, we have all turned away from our Heavenly Father to pursue our own selfish desires (Isaiah 53:6). We have squandered the gifts and blessings He has given us, and found ourselves in a state of spiritual bankruptcy and emptiness.

A Father’s Compassion

What happens next in the parable is a stunning display of the father’s love. While the son is still a long way off, the father sees him, has compassion on him, and runs to embrace and kiss him. This was a shocking breach of cultural norms, as a dignified Middle Eastern patriarch would never have run in public or shown such vulnerable emotion.

But the father’s love cannot be contained. He is overwhelmed with joy at the return of his lost son, and lavishes him with undeserved grace and restoration. He puts the best robe on him, a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet, signifying his full status as a son. He throws a feast to celebrate, declaring, “This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).

This beautiful picture of the father’s compassion and forgiveness reflects the heart of God towards His children. No matter how far we have strayed or how much we have sinned, He is always ready to welcome us back with open arms (1 John 1:9). He rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17), and restores us to the full privileges and joy of sonship in Christ (Galatians 4:4-7).

The Challenge of Unconditional Love

The parable also includes the response of the older brother, who is resentful and angry at the father’s lavish welcome of the prodigal. He feels that his own faithful service has gone unappreciated, while his brother’s sins are seemingly rewarded.

The father gently corrects him, affirming his own steadfast love and provision for the older son, while also expressing the depth of his joy at the younger son’s return: “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32).

This exchange highlights the challenge and cost of unconditional love. It is not easy to extend grace and forgiveness to those who have wronged us, especially when we feel that our own efforts and obedience have gone unnoticed. But the father in the parable models the way of Christ, who loved us even when we were still sinners, and who calls us to love others with that same undeserved, extravagant mercy (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 4:32).

Implications for Parental Love

So what can we learn from this parable about the nature of parental love? Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Love gives freedom: Just as the father allowed the prodigal son to make his own choices, even when they were foolish and hurtful, parents must learn to give their children appropriate freedom to learn, grow, and even fail. This is not neglect, but a trust in God’s sovereign care and a respect for the child’s own personhood.
  2. Love is patient and long-suffering: The father never stopped loving the prodigal son, even during his season of rebellion. He waited patiently for his return, and was ready to embrace him the moment he came home. Parents are called to love their children with that same patient, forbearing love, even when they make mistakes or push us away.
  3. Love is quick to forgive: When the prodigal son returned, the father didn’t demand an apology or make him earn back his good graces. He freely and fully forgave him, restoring him to full sonship. As parents, we must be ready to extend forgiveness to our children when they repent, not holding their past sins against them or making them jump through hoops to regain our favor.
  4. Love celebrates repentance: The father’s joy at the prodigal’s return was effusive and unbridled. He threw a lavish feast to celebrate the restoration of his son. When our children turn from sin and return to the Lord, we should be their biggest cheerleaders, rejoicing with them and affirming the work of God’s grace in their lives.
  5. Love is not earned, but given: The prodigal son did nothing to deserve the father’s love and welcome. In fact, he had done everything to reject and dishonor his father. But the father’s love was not based on the son’s performance, but on his unchanging identity as a beloved child. As parents, we must strive to love our children unconditionally, not based on their achievements or behavior, but because of who they are as precious gifts from God.

Loving like the father in the parable is not easy. It requires a heart that has been transformed by the grace and mercy of God, and a daily dependence on His strength and wisdom. But as we look to the example of our Heavenly Father, and lean into His love for us, we can grow in our ability to love our children with a love that endures, redeems, and restores.

Reflective Questions:

  1. How have you experienced or witnessed the pain of a child’s rebellion, and the joy of their return?
  2. Which aspect of the father’s love in the parable is most challenging for you to emulate, and why?
  3. How can parents balance the need for discipline and consequences with the call to extend unconditional love and forgiveness?
  4. In what ways can meditating on God’s fatherly love for us transform the way we love our own children?

Conclusion

Parental love, as portrayed in Scripture, is a high and holy calling, reflective of the very heart of God. It is a love that is patient, kind, and long-suffering, a love that trains and nurtures, a love that forgives and redeems. It is a love that is not earned or deserved, but freely given, rooted in the unchanging identity of the child as a precious creation of God.

As we have seen in this study, the Bible gives us rich wisdom and compelling examples of what parental love looks like in action. From the proverbial instruction to “train up a child in the way he should go,” to the poignant picture of the father’s compassion in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Scripture invites us to embrace a love that is both challenging and beautiful, costly and rewarding.

Of course, no parent can love perfectly, and no child will respond flawlessly. We are all sinful, broken people in need of God’s grace and redemption. But as we anchor our hearts in the perfect love of our Heavenly Father, and seek to imitate Him in our parenting, we can experience the joy and blessing of nurturing the next generation for His glory.

May we, as parents and spiritual mentors, be quick to extend the same mercy, patience, and unconditional acceptance that we have received in Christ. May we train up our children in the way of wisdom and righteousness, while also giving them the freedom to learn, grow, and even fail. May we model a love that celebrates repentance, a love that endures the heartaches and delights of the journey, a love that points them always to the One who loved them first and best.

And may we find hope and help in the promise of God’s unfailing love for us, a love that sustains, equips, and empowers us for the high calling of parenting. As 1 John 4:19 reminds us, “We love because He first loved us.” May His love be the source and the overflow of our love for the precious children He has entrusted to our care.

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