The question is often asked – and I like the question for the sake of discussion – “is gentle parenting consistent with the Bible?”
I want to talk about gentleness. There are many commands in Scripture which are covenantal and applicable to the church, and which point the Christian to joy, humility, love, compassion, gentleness, and so on. It seems that the priority Jesus placed on non-violence and love is consistent throughout the epistles of Paul. Indeed, Paul had much to teach the church on how a Christian must live. He consistently discipled Christians to reject their old, idolatrous lifestyles, and replace them with lifestyles which reflect the love of Christ.
In Colossians, Paul lays out the template for Christian living in a similar fashion to his instruction to the Ephesian church. His specific and general instructions lay the framework for Christian parenting.
First things first – he slams down a clear line in the sand. Either you are pagan, and of the world, or you are Christian, and of the Kingdom (Matthew 6:24). This delineation is ethical, not ceremonial; the difference lies not in bloodlines, traditions or sacraments, but in ethical conformity to God according to faith.
Here are the words of chapter two which directly precede this:
“If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)-in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”COLOSSIANS 2:20-23 NASB
He asks, do you submit to laws of men to provide “spiritual cleanliness”? Do you flagellate your body or punish yourself with severe fasting in the hopes of removing temptation? Do you hold your body to such a high standard of cleanliness that you avoid certain foods for fear of spiritual contamination? Paul says that these forms of physical slavery are the commandments and teachings of men, which have no value to Christians. Some such Laws were passed down from God Himself within the ceremonial aspects of the Law as a type and shadow of the coming Christ. Therefore they are not absolutely without value in time and history. But Paul is making a clear distinction that, for the Christian, these things have been fulfilled in biblical history. To return to the ceremonial law would be to put on the burdens of that law and thus put Christ to shame.
Here lies the rub; Paul is plainly teaching that for a believer in Christ to practice the ceremonial law of the Bible is to retreat back into paganism. Apparently, in Paul’s day, there were teachers in the church who were teaching this retreat back into Judaic ceremonial culture. Paul makes absolutely no compromise with this false teaching and drives the wedge between Judaism and Christianity firmer than ever.
So Christians must weep over their sin; the indulgence of the flesh is a dangerous thing and can quickly lead a heart bent on piety into idolatry. And this is precisely what Paul warns against. But if we are not to use ceremonial methods of keeping our hearts clean, than how must we deal with our shame over sin?
“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”COLOSSIANS 3:1-4 NASB
So the solution to our guilt is not outward, but inward! It is not obedience which produces ceremonial cleanliness, but the perfect cleanliness of Christ which produces obedience. The guilt we feel when we sin against God or a loved one is nothing less than the implanted moral Law of God which is written on our hearts bearing witness against us. So our guilt is a good thing, and bars our fleshly indulgence; and the cleanliness of Christ’s sacrifice produces an obedient heart!
Yet a dilemma still exists: how do we have a peaceful heart? If we know that our guilt is upon us and our shame is multiplied by the fact that we sin even as we claim to be a member of the new covenant… how do we have peace so that we may sleep at night?
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”COLOSSIANS 3:12-14 NASB
Indeed, ethical conformity is the product of a changed heart – and that same heart-change produces nothing less than the fruits of the Spirit! And what is the theme we see throughout Paul’s ethical advice? End violence, produce self-sacrifice. End anger, produce patience. End abusive speech, produce kindness. End slander, produce forgiveness. End dissensions, produce unity in love.
The overarching theme of Christian living, according to Paul, is not violence against the flesh, but comfort in God.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”COLOSSIANS 3:15 NASB
The only thing that drives away a persons guilt is the perfect peace of the sacrifice of Christ. And we know the efficacy of that sacrifice by our love for Him. Violence against the flesh produces idolatry – a hallmark of paganism. And according to Paul, even attempts to cleanse ourselves (or our children) through outward violence against the flesh produce idolatry. Peace in Christ produces ethical Christian living – the hallmark of the gospel.
How must we apply this worldview as parents?
Once our heart is endeared to Christ, our actions will follow suit. A moved heart inspires us to live ethically and to obey His moral Commandments. Thus, the removal of suffering produces love, which produces ethical behaviors. That is, a beating does not produce a child’s joy, but forgiveness does. A beating does not produce the endearment of a child’s heart, but patience does. As a parent guides their child and tempers their teaching to the emotional well-being of a child, their emotional response will produce behavioral modification. Our love for God is motivated by His grace, not by His judgment. Is it any wonder that Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is so passionately consistent throughout his epistles that the fruits of the spirit – which include love, patience, and gentleness, are the key to Christian living?
So, we see, Christian parenting is gentle parenting! Just as the joy of our walk with Christ guides us to believe and obey Him, the sweetness of our compassion toward our children will guide them to believe in us, trust in us, and love, obey, and appreciate the Lord whom we serve.