The answer, though profound, is very simple. Christians raise their children as God, their Father, raises His children. If parents who desire to raise their children properly would only remember that, we would not be in a panic, thinking that if we do not read every "how to" book on the market, we will not be good parents. Parents, let us love our children as God loves us!
The whole Bible points to God's Fatherhood as the rule of our behavior towards our children. Just think of the Lord's Prayer that has us praying, "Our Father. . ." and of Jesus' teaching in Matthew that says, "If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?"
Of all the virtues God shows to His children, love underlies them all. There are other virtues that characterize God's behavior towards us: pity and compassion, dealing with a firm hand, wisdom, justice, and more. Love is basic to them all. Love is the heart of the relationship between God and His natural Son, Jesus Christ. In love, God begot Him and now lives with Him in the blessed life of the Godhead, in God's "bosom." God refers to His Son as "my beloved Son."
This power of love is behind all God's behavior towards His adopted children (us). When Moses explains to Israel in Deuteronomy 7 why God chose and saved them, the ultimate reason is, "because Jehovah loved you." The real comfort for the child of God is that he is persuaded that nothing can separate him from the love of God ( Romans 8).
Now, regarding our children, this must be the essential element in our relationship towards them. This is not to say that other virtues are not important. This is to say that love is essential.
In Hebrews 12 (please read this), where comfort is brought to the suffering church whose hands hang down and knees are weak, and the comparison is made between God's Fatherhood and ours, the apostle wants the people to be assured of God's love for them. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth. . . ."
It is not natural for parents to love their children. Yes, there is a "natural" love, a certain affection that all parents have toward their children, seen in what they will sometimes do for their children. But a parent does not have naturally the true love that is a reflection of God's love for His children. Especially when children are showing their "bad side," parents do not love their children naturally.
Love for children is a gift from God! God puts the necessary love in the hearts of parents, gives the astounding ability to reflect the love that He has for us and to live by the power of that love. God gives that love through His Word. When the Word of God calls parents, "Love your children," God creates the power of that love in their hearts as really as His Word worked to create the worlds and as really as Jesus' Word recreated life in dead Lazarus. Also, God gives love through prayer. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." God wants parents to ask for the ability they need to be good parents. Last, God gives love to mothers through the teaching of the older women. Titus 2:4 teaches that the older women have as their duty in the church to teach the younger women to "love their husbands and to love their children." Indeed, this is a gift, but a gift that is learned.
Part of a parent's love is that they tell their children of their love for them. Imagine, once, a God in heaven Who loves His children, but fails to tell them He loves them! Impossible! How often do parents, in this fast-paced life, tell (and show) their children how they love them? Failure here destroys them psychologically and spiritually. If God rarely told His children that He loved them, they would be spiritual wrecks, "basket cases," finding life not worth living. This is the distress of those whose sin bring them away from God and the testimony of the Spirit that they are the children of God. One of the beautiful songs from Psalm 63 has us sing, "the lovingkindness of my God is more than life to me. . ." What must we think of parents who fail to tell their children of their love? All other things being equal, they have no sense of security and no knowledge of God's love. Really (except by God's grace) they will come to psychological and spiritual ruin.
The goal of parent's love for their children is the children's obedience and holy life. The ultimate goal of parents is not that their children are successful, wealthy, popular. Their goal is that their children be holy: holy in school, holy in work, and chaste in their behavior with friends. Without holiness, "no man shall see the Lord" (see Hebrews 12:10, 14). Children need this holiness, because they are sinners. "Conceived and born in sin" ( Psalm 51), every child needs holiness from God.
Parents teach their children this holiness. They teach them the commandments: teach them to worship only God, to use His name reverently, to remember the Sabbath day, and the rest. They teach them these commandments, not to keep them out of trouble, nor so they can earn their salvation, but to show thankfulness to God for His covenant with them.
Failing in holiness, as children do, they are led to the cross of Jesus where they find forgiveness for their sins, as well as power to change. Repentance and faith! This is the heart of holy living for children, too. Let every parent have this mind in them: I want my children to know Jesus as I know Him, to find holiness in the cross where I find it.
For this, parents must be holy. They cannot teach their children holiness if their own life is unholy; the virtues of the ninth commandment if their tongue always wags; or the good way of chastity if the entertain themselves with immorality on TV or elsewhere. This is not to say that their life must be perfect, but that it, too, must be a life of repentance and faith, seeking strength in the cross for holiness of walk. "Be ye holy," God says to His children, "for I am holy."
For this, also discipline is necessary. A love that is lax is not the love of God. Proverbs says that a man that withholds discipline hates his children. Don't be an "Eli father" who rebukes and rebukes and rebukes, but never follows up on that rebuke. Children are ruined by this kind of parenting.
Let this discipline begin early. Let it be administered out of love (Hebrews 12:10). Let it be done with understanding, realizing their weaknesses and struggles ("As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him" Psalm 103:13). Let it be done with a readiness to forgive, even as God forgives us (Ephesians 4:32). Let it be mixed with praise, for God praises His children, speaking well of them when they do well. (For a longer treatment of discipline, write or call us for a booklet by Rev. Steven Key, entitled, "The Rod and Reproof: The Loving Discipline of Covenant Children".)
What a great goal we have - - nothing less than the behavior of God Himself! Is that our goal, parents - "I am going to model my parenting after God's behavior towards us"? Is this my prayer each morning as I wake, "Lord, God, my Father, I want to behave myself towards my children even as Thou dost behave towards me"?
What sinners we parents are! We are not able to think very highly of ourselves when we understand what a perfect model we have in God. How miserably we fail in our love for them, in our desire for their holiness for God's sake. How we fail in our discipline of them - - inconsistent, unfair, poorly motivated. Where was the patience? Where the praise? Where the forgiveness? Where was God?
What a mighty Savior parents need! What a great God we have to deliver us from our self-willed discipline, from impatience, from failure to spend time. . . . What a mighty Savior we parents have in our great God, through His Son Jesus Christ.
When we pray to Him, asking strength to be godly parents and modeling our lives after Him, every pious mother and every godly father can be assured: I am doing it right. God will use it to save His children among ours.