Should Christian parents be their child’s friend? What does that even mean? Today, AMBrewster discusses what God has to say on the subject and gives a bunch of practical applications.
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It’s so good to be reconnecting with you. I hope you’re eagerly anticipating what the Lord has planned for us and our parenting. Today’s topic is significant, and if we truly grasp it, our parenting will never be the same.
And if you’re connecting with us for the first time, please let me welcome you and invite you to check out our podcast from the very beginning. Our content is evergreen, our message is God’s eternally-relevant Word, and what we do here is not beneficial or helpful for your parenting because I’m part of it. No — it’s simply God’s Word allowed free rein to inform and empower our parenting.
So, I hope your journey with us is a blessing to you and your family.
Okay, so during the 90’s there was this HUGE push among secularists for parents to be their kids’ friends.
Like everything else in our culture, it was preached through every medium you can imagine, but especially though sitcoms and children’s programming.
Moms and dads were stripped of their authority and reduced to older, generally incompetent versions of the child’s other friends. And it’s not like they wanted the authority anyway. TV parents were more than happy to abdicate their authority right up until the point where the child’s behavior negatively affected the parent . . . then the dictator walked in.
Of course, the show would end with the parents apologizing for being too harsh and the child fulfilling the role of persecuted hero.
Thankfully, due to the fact that the world’s version of a parent/friend was a complete and utter Failure Philosophy, the whole concept is being rejected by modern parents and professionals.
Of course, that doesn’t actually mean anything. Pendulumming is as much a cultural tendency as it is the individual’s tendency. What one generation did two decades ago is likely to be rejected this decade. And, more often than not, what was just rejected will be accepted in another decade or two.
“Put the baby on her tummy. No! Put her on her back. It’s okay, doctors say tummy sleeping is the best. You’re a bad parent if you don’t lay your child on her back.” And so on.
And this is what you’d expect for three reasons:
When it came to the parent/friend dynamic of the 90’s, I think the pendulum swung in the opposite direction because people saw that it didn’t work.
Adults who grew up with parents who acted more like friends than parents didn’t respect their parents and don’t want that same issue with their kids. And professionals who research these things realized it was unhealthy for family relationships as well.
So, today if you google this subject you’ll find a bunch of people telling you not to be their friend. But you’ll also find a segment of the articles telling you that it can be done, it just needs to be done the right way.
Well, with the lengthy introduction, let’s ask the really important question . . . what does God have to say on the subject?
First, let’s start by acknowledging that nowhere in Scripture are parents commanded to be their children’s friends. And their role is very clearly defined. I think it’s safe to say that the biblical role of the parent has been the content of every episode on TLP.
Second, we need to acknowledge that all Christians are called to love everyone. And if you didn’t start our love study at the beginning, I encourage you to start with episode 126.
Third, the Bible tells us that love and friendship go hand in hand. And, with that, I want to take you to John 15.
I’m going to read John 15:12-17 and comment on it as we go. In chapter 15, Jesus is giving some of His final commands to His disciples before He’s betrayed and crucified. And He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Talk about a high standard. We could unpack that sentence for weeks. But Jesus does us a favor by drilling down to the most basic mindset of love.
He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Now, we’re heard this verse a hundred times, but do you get it?
First, we have Jesus using a superlative to describe to a love that is greater than all others. Second, that greatest love involves dying for someone else. And third, that someone else is our friends.
The implications are many, but here are just two:
Let’s continue: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Now, if there were ever a definition of a friend that doesn’t fit our modern view, this is it. Imagine getting together with your girlfriends, and one of them says to you, “You’re such a good friend.” And you reply, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
Anyway, I want to make three observations. One, this is Jesus talking specifically to His followers — by the way, that includes us. He’s God. Any relationship with Him is going to require obedience. Two, your best friends are going to be people who obey God, and you cannot be a good friend if you’re not obeying God. And three, do you think that if this definition of friend can apply to the Creator of the universe and His creations that it can apply to a parent and his children? Yeah. I think it can. We’ll get back to this momentarily.
Jesus continues and says, ”No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Again, as he continues to define “friend” we see the definition breaking our molds. Now, His friends are not only those who obey Him but people to whom He’s revealed His father.
And He finishes this section by saying: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
Our friendship with Christ has some fantastic benefits including being chosen by God, bearing fruit, and being blessed of the Father.
And He wraps it all up reminding us that we need to love each other . . . just like He loved us . . . by dying for us. Of course, at this point He hadn’t died for them, and they didn’t realize He was going to. But I love how He just laid out the gospel for them.
I love you. The greatest love involves dying for friends. You’re my friend because you obey me and know my Father. I love you with the greatest love, therefore I’m going to die for you. And my love will shower you with eternal spiritual blessings.
I John 3:16-18 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,”
If He hadn’t died for us, we wouldn’t even know what True Love is.
And He continues with an uncomfortable application that says, because we now know love, “we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
So, with the rest of our time, I want to discuss these vital questions:
1. How does a parent be a parent and a friend without sacrificing either relationship? How does God want parents to love their kids?
There are so many ways to answer this question, so I’m going to limit myself to the John 15 passage.
1. Please realize that you must be both their parent and their friend, but the biblical definition for both of these words are not at odds. The world looks at a friend one way and they look at a parent in the exact opposite way. That’s why the 90’s parent/friend experiment failed. The parents who took the world’s advice substituted their parental role for the role of a high school classmate. That’s not at all to what God is calling us.
There is absolutely nothing about being a friend that should detract from being a parent. I don’t want to take too much time talking about it here because I have a series planned for the future where I detail biblical friendship. I want to present it in a way that you and your kids can study together like we did with The Three Family Loves.
But, for now we have to acknowledge that friendship is not always mutual, and that a friend has True Love. That will constrain all he does. So, with that said . . .
2. Verse 14 tells us that your children are your friends when they obey. This is not a point I need to flesh out too much here, but I do want to say that just because your children are being friends to you doesn’t mean you’re being a friend to them.
3. Verse 15 illustrates that you are your child’s friend when you reveal God to them. Jesus said that a servant doesn’t know what the master is doing. Your parenting — in many ways — should be transparent to your children. If your parenting is all about God, why would you hide that from them anyway. Too often we’re tempted to say things like “Because I told you to,” because — at that moment — our parenting was about us and not God. There are plenty of passages to which to turn when your children are disobeying. Rarely do you need to default to “Because I said so.”
4. Verse 16 tells us that you are your child’s friend when you choose to help them grow in their relationship with God. This includes Evangelism Parenting like we discussed in episodes 9, 45, 63, and 111. But it also includes all the parenting you do after your child is born again as you help them be conformed to the image of Christ.
And number 5. Verse 13 tells us that you are your child’s friend when you lay down your life for them.
I saved this one for last because I want to explain it thoroughly.
What does it mean to lay down your life for your friend?
Well, obviously, sacrificing your life for someone else is the ultimate show of love. There is nothing more precious or permanent than dying for someone. There’s nothing you could do that would be less selfish. That would definitely fall under the category or outdoing each other in honor and preferring others above yourself.
And that’s exactly what Jesus did for all of us. He gave everything. He left Heaven, became a man — but not any man — He became a poor carpenter’s son Who was born in a manger. He lives a rude and mean life. He didn’t have riches and acclaim, and even His popularity was mostly abusive. For thirty-three years He submitted to His own creation and — at the end — allowed them to torture Him. He suffered separation from His Father, and He eventually gave up His life to and for His creation.
There is no more powerful display of love. Because even if we did something similar. Even if we threw ourselves in front of our children, our love ends. But Jesus rose from grave, conquered death, and will love His children for all eternity.
And because of that I John 3:16 reveals, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”
But I believe there’s more than we can do to love our children with this greatest of loves. So, as we move to the second main question for the day: “Is dying for our children the only way to possess the greatest love for our kids?” let’s flesh out this concept of “laying down our lives.”
A few episodes ago I mentioned that it’s interesting husbands will say that they’d take a bullet for their spouses, but they won’t take a dirty diaper for them. Sorry, guys, it makes the bullet story a little hard to swallow.
To be fair, most of us probably would take a bullet for our wives, but do you realize that it would likely be easier to take a bullet. In the moment, with only one clear option, with the adrenaline pumping, the Holy Spirit working, and no time to think, I believe that many people become the best versions of themselves.
But when we’re home from work and we’re tired, and it’s not a life-or-death situation, and we take too long to think, it’s so much harder to prefer our wives over us when it comes to chores or dirty diapers or disciplining the children. And we fail to lay down our life for her.
If I’m really going to lay down my life, how on earth can I justify not laying down everything else?
We already read I John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” But it continues is verse 17 like this: “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Did you see that? The rest of the verse says that God’s love, the same love that sacrificed itself for us, would have seen a brother in need and opened his heart to the needy one and met his need. True Love doesn’t just say, “I’d take a bullet,” True Love manifests itself in word and deed.
So, the question I have for you is this — do you really want to be your child’s friend? Are you ready to lay down your life?
This is more than paying for their clothes and food and shelter. God is calling you to more than merely putting them in a good school. This is more than homeschooling them. God is demanding you to do more than drive them to endless practices and rehearsals.
God wants you to lay down your life at every turn, in every moment, forever and always. I believe this is part of the fulfillment to Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Now, here’s the tension that must be walked. It’s a three-way pull.
On one side you have the reality that nothing is your own. No time, no money, no desires, no plans. It all belongs to God and is all a part of His plan as you steward the family He gave you. This flies in the face of the Dictator and the Judge Parents.
At the same time, you must have high biblical expectations for your family. You mustn’t allow them to selfishly walk all over you. But again — you mustn’t do this selfishly. When you parent your children to respond to you correctly, respectfully, and lovingly, it must be motivated by the fact that you want nothing more than your children’s best interest. And that best interest is their obedience and submission to Christ. This contradicts the natural tendencies of the Doormat Parent and the Joker Parent.
You can learn all about these parents in episodes 26, “The 5th Parent: the only parenting style that glorifies God.”
And the third piece of tension is the fact that you do in fact need some things in order to fulfill God’s best interest for you. Rand Hummel, a man I very much respect and consider a dear friend, once said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep.” It does not glorify God when the Dictator and Doormats stretch themselves so far that they’re no good to their families.
I love that David Platt recently announced that he’s stepping down from his role at the mission board in order to devote his time to the pastorate. He knew his limits, and he realized he surpassed them.
This is preaching right to me. It’s so easy for me to overextend myself. That doesn’t glorify God.
So, you see that the three-way tension is to realize that I must give my all, but wisely not give too much, expect everything from family while balancing an equal amount of grace, discipline, counsel, and assistance, and care for myself, but not for myself as I train my children to love others (including me), but not for my own sake.
That is the single most difficult task. Paul encouraged the churches to follow him and he followed Christ. To be able to teach your children to imitate you, but not because you like it. To instruct your children to obey and respect you, but only because God is Who He says He is. To require your children to learn how to love and care for you without a hint of selfishness, but solely because it’s what’s best for your children in God’s perfect plan. It’s teaching your children how to relate biblically to you without you thinking about you.
That may just be the highest form of laying down your life without actually losing it.
So, let’s take our final moments to give some practical applications you can work on today. But please understand that this is gigantic concept. My friend, Mark and I were talking yesterday about the reality that the knowledge of Truth is far easier to collect than practicality of love is to live. It’s easy to know, but not always easy to do.
I suggest you latch on to one of these concepts. Don’t try to dominate them all. Pour all your resources and energy into just one. And when you start to get a handle on one of these applications, try to add another.
Alright, here we go . . .
Now, one last, SUPER important point: When you find yourself in a situation like the ones I just outlined, beg God to help you make that decision for Christ and not for some hedonistic, selfish purposes. We must not do any of this because we want our kids to think we’re awesome. And — here’s the big one — don’t you dare do it because you want to feel like a martyr.
That’s what Doormats do. I’m not encouraging all the Dictators and Judges and Jokers out there to become Doormats. We all need to be Ambassadors. And — seriously — if you haven’t listened to “The 5th Way to Parent” in episode 26, you really need to. In fact, we all need to re-listen to it. I need to listen to it again.
That two-part episode steps through the only parenting style that glorifies God, and it outlines each of our biggest struggles in parenting.
So, instead of being a martyr or manipulator, take it as a premeditated, intentional opportunity to lay down your life for Christ and for your family out of True Love.
And lastly, maybe one of the best ways you can be a blessing to someone else’s families is to share this episode. Who doesn’t need this truth?
Hopefully today’s episode notes will be helpful for you. You can find the link in the description.
And don’t miss our next episode. Why do our children love what they love and how do we teach them to love other things? Well, that’s the topic next time when we discuss “What are you teaching your kids to love?” I’ll see you then.
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So, do you really want to be your child’s friend. I hope so, but are you ready to do it the right way? God has the plan and the power you need to lay down your life for Him and others.
See you next time.
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