I Can’t Control My Children
Problems with Parenting
Family Ministry Center
I heard of a father who said repeatedly, ” I can’t control my children.” The father followed a path with his children that he thought was loving, supportive, non-confrontational, and nurturing. He did not know the spiritual condition of his son. He was very pleased that his homosexual, middle-aged son was still alive after heroin addiction and being a drunkard. His son had finally come to hold a steady job after quitting college many years ago. The son had reached middle age and was trying to make a new life, but remained under court control for prior criminal offenses and faced further criminal charges. In fact, the middle-aged son was always given a weekly allowance to spend as he pleased. His parents had given him an automobile, but he wrecked it (he had several criminal charges related to driving under the influence.) They bought him another one. This child lived in a large home with his parents and was allowed to do whatever he wanted since he was a young child. The parents did not impose proper discipline upon the child, for fear it would “crush his spirit.” A friend read the Bible with that father about his duties to command his children, and he kept saying, “I can’t control my children.” A friend mentioned that his unbelieving son was going to hell and his father thought his son was doing just fine under the circumstances. In fact, his mother wanted praise for the progress the son had made. The father never established a pattern with the children of daily Bible teaching, loving leadership, family prayer, discipline and rebuke. In fact, the father lost spiritual contact with some or all of his children, even when those children who lived at home with him. What must a parent do to help their wayward children? Can a parent truly say, “I can’t control my children?” as an excuse for not following the commands of God regarding a father’s duty to his children? Parents demonstrate love for their children when the parents obey the commands of God. God provided specific commandments to fathers for raising children of all ages. When fathers honor their children more than God, then trouble awaits all of them.
That father’s story reminded me of a mother who told me about her middle-aged son sitting in jail for repeated criminal activity. He was begging his mother to get the best lawyer possible because he was charged with dealing drugs. He showed no remorse or repentance, but wanted her to spend money to get him out so he could continue his evil life.
I also remembered another father who prayed with me about his middle-aged adult son getting out of federal prison. His middle-aged son had spent more time in prison than outside of prison. Within three days of being released from prison, he was arrested again for drug offenses. His father was heartbroken, but he also came from a troubled lifestyle.
Parents frequently share stories about their children who have not listened to them and have not obeyed them in decades. Those parents often say, “I can’t control my children.” Many of them provide money, food, clothing, and a place to live for adult children living in rebellion, immorality, and drunkenness.
How can you get your children to obey you? It starts with you obeying God, Who provided very specific instructions for fathers to follow with their children. Fathers who say, “I can’t control my children,” really mean that they are unwilling to follow God’s instructions for raising children. Please recall that raising your children requires your attention for your entire lifetime. So, what did God say about raising your children of all ages? If you will follow these steps, and believe that God rewards those who diligently serve Him, then you may expect results in your life. From the Bible I will lay out several steps every father should take to control their children. Notice that the commands below apply to all fathers. Fathers must obey the commands below, whether or not their children obey.
Command Your Children of All Ages
Commanding Your Children. I can hear people saying right now, “If I command my children to do anything, they will not do it.” Your obedience to God should be absolute. In other words, every father must command their children, whether you think they will obey or not. Remember your spiritual duty to God is to command your children. As a separate duty, every child has a spiritual duty to obey their parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3) and honor their parents (Deuteronomy 5:16). Today, start commanding your children and your entire household to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice. Do not worry about the child’s response. Live in obedience to God’s word today. God told Abraham precisely how to raise His children. In fact, God chose Abraham so that Abraham would raise Godly children who obey God. God commanded Abraham to command (“יְצַוֶּה“) his children. This term does not mean plead with or suggest to. It means to give orders as a farmer speaks to his laborers (Ruth 2:9), as Jesse directed his son David to take supplies to his brothers facing Goliath and the enemy (1 Samuel 17:17-20), and as a king commands his subjects (2 Samuel 21:14). This same term also described Moses conveying to the people the commandments of God (Exodus 34:34). In its broader scope, God created the world through His command (Psalm 33:9; Isaiah 45:12). God commanded Abraham to command his children.
Keep the Way of the LORD. God commanded Abraham to command his children to keep the way of the LORD. Let us focus for a moment upon this phrase the “way of the LORD” (Genesis 18:19). The way of the LORD is a stronghold for the upright, but ruin to the workers of iniquity (Proverbs 10:29). While every man views his own way as right, the LORD provides the good way, and weighs the hearts (Proverbs 21:2; Jeremiah 6:16). In the New Testament, we know that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father except by Him (John 14:6). Righteousness guards the way of the blameless (Proverbs 13:6). In essence, the way of the Lord means the path provided by Him as He leads the way down the path of His righteousness. A man may choose to follow the way of life with the Lord Jesus, or turn to the way of death (Jeremiah 21:8). Fathers must obediently command their children to keep the way of the LORD. They must do this continuously.
Doing Righteousness and Justice. God commands both what we do and what say. Jesus said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). We know that we walk in the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice (Genesis 18:19). In this verse, God highlights righteousness. This term for righteousness signals that Abraham found righteousness with God by faith alone (Romans 4:9-15). The application here means that fathers must teach their children about salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and the spiritual life based upon faith righteousness. Righteousness refers to a quality of Yahweh that means upright, morally and ethically perfect. Notice the verse speaks of “doing.” We walk in the way of Yahweh by doing righteousness. Fathers teach their children by doing, that is, by example, and also by teaching with words. In addition to salvation, and the entire spiritual life of righteousness based upon faith, God also commands fathers to teach their children about justice. The righteous rejoice in justice and it refers to doing the correct thing before God (Psalm 32:11). You can wear justice as a robe (Job 29:14; Isaiah 61:10). God repeatedly placed a duty upon fathers, as spiritual leaders of the family, to be sure their children followed Christ. In the New Testament, God included even Gentiles in the promise of salvation made to Abraham: “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). Just as God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, so we Gentiles have been brought into the family of God (Romans 4:16-18). As children of Abraham, we should do the works of Abraham, including the obligation to learn righteousness and justice at home, from our fathers (John 8:39).
The Duty To Command Adult Children. In Genesis 18:19, God commanded Abraham to command his household. When we think of household, we may be thinking of just a few people, such as minor sons and daughters. The household of Abraham, however, included his son Ishmael, all the servants born in his house, all who were bought with his money, and all of their children (Genesis 17:23-27). In fact, when Abraham had to rescue Lot, the number of his trained men, able to strap on a sword, born in his house, numbered three hundred and eighteen (Genesis 14:14; compare the household of Esau, which included more than his wives, his sons and his daughters, Genesis 36:6). In fact, the households of Jacob and Esau had been so great, they were unable to live together (Genesis 36:7; see also Genesis 46:26–the sixty-six people who “belonged” to Jacob when he went to Egypt). Although sons may have their own households, to the extent they still live with their fathers, they remain in a sense part of the household of the father. In any event, we see that the fathers had a duty to command everyone who lived in their households to walk in the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice.
Lead Your Children
The Ministry of Leading at Home. God entrusts many ministries to fathers. Fathers must fulfill those ministries entrusted to them. One of those ministries of fathers includes leading the children and it always starts at home. The ministry of fathers leading at home rests upon the word “leads” (“προϊστάμενος”–Romans 12:8), which means the ability to manage (“προϊστάμενον”) their own children and their own households (1 Timothy 3:4; 3:12). As a result of the father’s leading, the children and the household are kept under control (“ὑποταγῇ”) (1 Timothy 3:4). Therefore, the ministry of fathers includes influencing the mind and behavior of children and the household, so that they will mature in Christ, while staying under control, and maintaining dignity (“σεμνότητος”). The children and the household need this type of leading from fathers in the home. Remember, the first goal of fathers is the salvation of their children. Only God saves people, not fathers. God has entrusted to all fathers the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), in which they serve as ambassadors of Christ. Therefore, the unbelieving children receive the same leading from the father. Until the child becomes a believer, the results in the unbelieving child’s life will be different, but the ministry of reconciliation continues with every unbelieving child.
The Spiritual Effects of Leading at Home. The father’s ministry of leading at home produces spiritual effects in the lives of children. The father’s ministry of leading at home results in believers growing up in Christ, staying under control, and maintaining a dignified reputation for the assembly. Furthermore, the fathers have charge (“προϊσταμένους”) over their children, and saints should appreciate their Godly leading (1 Thessalonians 5:12). When fathers lead in the home, then we see the following effects of their ministry of leading.
The Spiritual Effect of Control. The father’s ministry of leading at home produces “control” (“ὑποταγῇ”) (1 Timothy 3:4). This term “control” (“ὑποταγῇ”) describes both voluntary submission and compulsory subordination. This spiritual ability to bring children under the control of God reflects the ministry of leading. Please recall that when fathers say, “I can’t control my children,” they literally deny the word of God. The father’s ministry produces control over the children one way or another.
Subjection. The term subjection (“ὑποταγῇ”) shows the fruit of the ministry of leading at home. When fathers lead properly, believers in the family live in subjection to God.
Control by Jesus. Today, if you say someone is controlling, you are often criticizing them. Unbelievers long to live without other people controlling them. Yet, they do not recognize they are a slave to sin, and under the control of the devil, leading to disobedience to God (Romans 7:14, Ephesians 2:1-3). In contrast, Jesus loves to control His children and His mature children love that control. Jesus ascended to heaven after angels, authorities and powers were subjected (1 Peter 3:22–“ὑποταγέντων“–notice the aorist participle indicating complete and total control) to Him. Therefore, we see this special power of God acting forcefully to bring supernatural beings (angels, authorities, and powers) into subjection to Christ. Fathers have a spiritual duty to bring other people under the will of Christ. Do not misunderstand: while Christ ascended and exercised His will over angels, authorities and powers, we still wrestle against them, but we triumph in Christ as we stand in His might (Ephesians 6:10-17). In contrast, Paul also taught us that the mind set on the flesh is not able to subject itself to the law of God (Romans 8:7). In the future, after all things have been subjected (“ὑποταγῇ”) to Jesus, then Jesus will be subjected (“ὑποταγήσεται“) to the Father who subjected to Him (τῷ ὑποτάξαντι αὐτῷ”) all things. We learn from this verse that a believer does nothing more than what Jesus does when He is subjected to the control and authority of the Father (1 Corinthians 15:28). Being under the control of Jesus or the Father in no way diminishes the spiritual stature of the person being subjected, but rather acknowledges a perfect joining of wills. Although we do not yet see all things placed in subjection to Christ, yet the Scripture proclaims that, in fact, all things have been placed in subjection to Christ (Hebrews 2:8). Furthermore, Christ Himself has the inherent, divine power as God to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21). Therefore, one effect of the ministry of fathers means that fathers bring their children and household under the control of Jesus.
Teach Your Children
Teach Your Children. Yahweh commanded the people of Israel to teach His commands. Fathers must diligently talk of God’s commands to their sons when they sit in their house and when they walk by the way and when they lie down and when they rise up (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Teach Them All Day. The teaching takes place all day, every day, so that the children will be well taught to love Yahweh, known in the New Testament as Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 11:19; Exodus 3:14; John 8:58). Furthermore, Yahweh always intended for the children to learn from their parents so that one generation would teach the next (Exodus 12:26-27–teaching children about the Passover; Exodus 13:8–teaching children about the Feast of Unleavened bread; Deuteronomy 31:12–teaching the general assembly, specifically including the children, to hear and obey the Law). Today, we teach children about Christ, the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-3).
Discipline Your Children
Fathers Must Discipline. Fathers must discipline their sons (Deuteronomy 8:5). In the Old Testament, the rebellious and disobedient, gluttonous and drunkard sons were to be stoned so that the evil would be removed the midst of Israel and all Israel would fear (Deuteronomy 21:18-21; compare 1 Corinthians 5:9-16–no stoning, but separation; Luke 12:49-53). Fathers must not withhold discipline: “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Proverbs 13:24). In the New Testament, fathers must not provoke their children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Likewise, earthly fathers discipline their sons (Hebrews 12:9-10). God gave specific instructions that fathers should not put up with disobedient sons.
Keep in Contact with Your Children
The Father Lost Contact. When he was old, Eli confronted his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, because he heard of their sinful behavior from other people (1 Samuel 2:22). This verse indicates that for many years Eli apparently had been completely out of touch with his sons and neglected fatherly care. If you want to have children like Hophni and Phinehas, repeat the mistakes of Eli: do not educate your children about serving God according to their calling, do not keep in touch with your children, do not honestly evaluate the work of your children, make sure you get so busy doing God’s work that you have no time for your adult children, and, in short, let your children do what they want without your guidance.
Know the Spiritual Condition of Your Children
The Sins of the Sons. When Eli finally confronted Hophni and Phinehas, he told them that he had heard the bad report from the people. He warned his sons that no one can intercede for them before God, because they had sinned directly against the LORD (1 Samuel 2:25). The sons compounded their sin by refusing to listen to their father’s words (1 Samuel 2:25). God did not grant them repentance from their sins because God intended to put them to death (1 Samuel 2:25).
The Sins of the Father. Eli himself not only failed his sons, but he also participated in the abuse of the sacrifices and offerings. One day a man of God confronted Eli, after he had rebuked his sons for their sins against God. Through the man of God, Eli heard about his sins: (1) he was “kicking at” (“תִבְעֲטוּ“) the sacrifices and offerings of God in His holy dwelling; and (2) he honored his sons above God (1 Samuel 2:29). Eli loved the choicest of every offering, and took it, growing extremely fat in the process. He also honored his sons more than God. He knew what his sons were doing, and did not rebuke them.
Rebuke Your Children
Worthless Sons. God described the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, as worthless (“בְלִיָּעַל“) men who did not know the LORD and the custom of the priests with the people (1 Samuel 2:12-13). Apparently, these children despised education in the ways of God, and spurned salvation from God. In those days, God had commanded that priests take meat from offerings by using a three-pronged fork to lift out portions from a boiling pot (1 Samuel 2:13; Leviticus 7:29-34). God also directed that, before boiling, the fat of the meat be removed and burned separately as a soothing aroma. But Hophni and Phinehas wanted the meat raw, with the fat still intact. Through their servants, they forced the people of Israel coming to Shiloh to give them the offerings as they demanded. Those children of Eli corrupted all the sacrifices offered at Shiloh while they were in charge.
Immoral Sons. Hophni and Phinehas also polluted the morality of people coming to Shiloh. Many of the pagan temples in the land had male and female prostitutes. The evil sons of Eli “lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (1 Samuel 2:22; compare Exodus 38:8). The Bible implies that the priests consented to the immorality and freely participated in the same. They thoroughly disregarded the holiness of God and their position as priests to serve God through their daily work. Instead, they viewed their position as an opportunity to satisfy their own hungers and lusts. Notice that God would punish the sons of Eli and Eli himself because his sons brought a curse upon themselves and he did not rebuke them.
Never Honor Your Children above God
Honor God First. The other major sin of Eli concerned his own devotion to his sons. God said Eli honored those boys more than Eli honored God. God commands fathers to love their children, but they must never honor children above God. The word “you honor” (“תְּכַבֵּד“) here means to glorify, to esteem highly. Instead of the children following the commandment to honor their father, this father chose to glorify his children above God (compare Exodus 20:12; 1 Samuel 2:29-30). God also observed that Eli knew about the iniquity of his sons, and that they brought a curse upon themselves, but Eli did not rebuke them (1 Samuel 3:13; Deuteronomy 17:12). Whenever fathers allow their children to get away with all their evil deeds, even when the father knows about them or should have known, then God will take action. Fathers who love their sons confront their sons in love, and take all appropriate action immediately.
Sons Cursed by God. In consequence of the sin of Eli and his sons, God told Eli that He would break the strength of Eli and his house so that “there would not be an old man in your house” (1 Samuel 2:31). God also cursed Eli by making him watch the holy house of God fall into distress, and the death of the increase of his house in the prime of their lives (1 Samuel 2:33). God told Eli that he would cut off every man of Eli from serving at the altar of God (1 Samuel 2:32).
Eyes Full of Grief. God brought profound grief upon the last days of Eli. In one day, both Hophni and Phinehas would die as a sign to Eli (1 Samuel 2:34). When Eli’s sons died, then Eli, old and heavy, died when he heard the news–1 Samuel 4:1-18). Fathers should rebuke and correct their children, as often as needed, and avoid participating in the sins of the children. Eli would also see the ark of God taken from Israel.
Fathers must command their children and their household, because God commanded fathers to command their children and their household. Fathers must also lead the children, by voluntary submission and compulsory obedience. Fathers must also discipline their children. Finally, fathers must not honor their children above God. When fathers say, “I can’t control my children,” please remember that fathers must obey the commands of God even with disobedient children.