What could an ancient warrior have to say about modern parenting? A lot! Join AMBrewster as he takes a cue from Sun Tzu but then turns our gaze to the Scriptures to help Christian families not be overthrown in the spiritual battlefield of life.
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Listen to the following episodes on Apple Podcasts by clicking the titles.
“How to Rightly Debate Your Child” (episode 51)
“Fearless Parenting” (episode 40)
"Peaceful Parenting” series (starts in episode 69)
“When to Raise Your Voice: is yelling ever appropriate?” (episode 38)
“Is It Okay to Get Mad?” (episode 153)
“Children and Shame” series (starts in episode 260)
“Four Family Loves” series (starts in episode 128)
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Let me start by saying that this podcast is decidedly Christian, and we believe that all of our parenting questions can and should be answered first and foremost from the Bible.
I never cite individuals whose opinions clearly disagree with Scripture unless I’m doing so to illustrate a point and show how their opinions are wrong. I also try really hard not to cite individuals whose comments have nothing to do with biblical parenting but just seem to fit in the situation illustratively.
But it does happen from time to time, and this is one of those times.
This is not the first time, though. I believe the only other time I’ve taken an obviously secular work and attempted to apply it to biblical parenting is in episode 51, “How to Rightly Debate Your Child.” What’s interesting about that episode and this one is that they both springboard from the same book, Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”
One reason I’ve done this is the fact that we’re dealing with ancient literature from a clearly unchristian perspective. That’s not to say it’s wholly wicked, Sun Tzu simply wasn’t born again. I definitely avoid doing this with authors whose work is more contemporary lest I give you, the listener, a wrong idea about the value of the work.
As a treatise on warfare, “The Art of War” is clearly an authority, and few people will accidentally view it as a source for biblical Truth.
So, why would I reference it on a podcast dedicated to helping Christian parents be the Ambassador Parents God called and created them to be?
That’s the second reason. The doctrine of God’s common grace is a gorgeous teaching that shows us that God is not some dictator in the sky who makes it as hard as possible to have a relationship with Him. In fact, He graciously makes it possible for us not only have a righteous relationship with Him, but also not live as sinfully as we could.
This means that even unregenerate, biblically-ignorant people can come to general understandings of Truth. Outside of the Scripture they won’t know the true source and cure for an issue, but they often are able to accurately observe the problem and provide solutions that tip their hats to God’s redemptive plan.
So, today we’re going to look at a section of “The Art of War” where Sun Tzu makes some observations that are biblically applicable to modern Christian parents. Of course, our final authority for this show will come from the Scriptures, but I hope you’re interested in hearing how a general found Truth for parenting on the ancient battleground.
But, before we do that, I’d like to thank Josh, Heatherly, and Lisa for making today’s episode possible. Each of them have given financially so that our families can learn more about God. How awesome is that! Thank you, guys, for worshipping God by equipping us as parents!
You can find out how to be a blessing to Christian parents all over the world by clicking on the “5 Ways to Support TLP" link in the description of this episode. Yes, you can give money, but you can also do easier things like pray or review this show on iTunes.
I pray you’ll consider what the Lord would have you do.
Alright, let’s learn to be better generals in Sun Tzu’s army and — most importantly — better parents in God’s.
And if you’re a note-taker who can’t take notes because you’re listening on the go, please check out our free episode notes and transcript which I’ll have linked in the description of this episode.
If you’re not familiar with “The Art of War” beyond what I’ve already shared, it will be helpful to know that it doesn’t read like a modern textbook. It’s more of a bulleted-checklist of ideas that apply to the topic of discussion.
In what we call “Chapter 8,” the topic is “Variation in Tactics” and starts with this very insightful observation: “Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign, collects his army and concentrates his forces.”
Here we see three facets: 1. He receives his orders, 2. He prepares his tools, and 3. He uses them to accomplish his orders.
The parallel to the believing parent is so beautiful. Too often parents are focused on the third aspect — making their families sun smoothly or achieving some family status or accomplishment. But they give very little thought to the fact that a victorious family must first be prepared.
They need to train in order to be successful.
Now, there are many families who understand that principle, but they miss the eternal importance of the first. How you train your family and on what your family concentrates its energies is going to have everything to do with who is giving your orders.
“The general receives his commands from the sovereign.” Who is that sovereign in your family? If you’re the general of your family, then who is the one providing your marching orders?
Dads, you’re not the sovereign. Moms, you aren’t the sovereign. This family has not been collected to achieve our goals and desires. Our sovereign is God, and He alone gets to set the standard and expectation for our families.
Therefore, we must collect and prepare our army with His commands in mind and concentrate our family’s energies with His commands in mind. That’s all that matters.
And that right there is a fantastic recalibration if we’ll only heed it.
Okay, so then Sun Tzu makes nine more observations which we won’t take time to observe. They’re great in so many ways, but not applicable to this discussion.
But his 11th through 14th notes are valuable for us today.
Number 11 reads this way: “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”
Here Sun Tzu is observing that it would be foolish for a general to hope that the enemy will not attack; his hope should be in the fact that when the enemy attacks, the general and his forces will be ready to receive him because they’re made their position unassailable.
Satan is going to attack. He is attacking as we speak. I Peter 5:8, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Ephesians 6:12 describes it in military terms: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
If you’re hoping that by keeping your family sheltered from sin that you have kept the devil from attacking, you’re dead wrong. You don’t understand the nature of sin. Too many parents hold on to the delusion that they can insulate their children from ideas and images and that this will protect them, but in situations like that the Devil has already taken ground in the child’s heart.
As Christian parents, our position becomes “unassailable” not because our walls are so high that our kids never come in contact with “the world,” but because our family is prepared to meet the attack in the power of God. They’re prepared to answer the lies. They’re prepared to overcome the temptations.
But even when the army is prepared well and functioning to the glory of God, there are at least five things that the general can do to mess things up.
Sun Tzu puts it this way: “There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction; (2) cowardice, which leads to capture; (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame; (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble. These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the conduct of war. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.”
And that’s what we want to do. Let’s subject them to meditation.
1. Reckless Parenting Leads to Destruction.
This one makes all the sense in the world. Merriam-Webster defines reckless as “marked by lack of proper caution : careless of consequences.” But in Ephesians 5:15-17 God command us to, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
And Proverbs 15:22 reminds us that “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”
And Luke 14:28 and 29 teaches us “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him.”
Our parenting must be intentional and premeditated. Recklessness grows from a lack of understanding of the nature of the situation and its consequences. But intentionally premeditated parents who find their source of Truth in God, will be constantly looking for the plan of action that will most please the Lord. And they won’t just find proof-texts for their way of living, they’ll allow the whole of Scripture to provide commentary on every verse so that their family represents the whole counsel of God.
Are you a reckless parent? Do you make declarations and plans without considering the implications and costs? This is easy to do financially, but it’s just as easy to do philosophically.
Yes, we can spend our families into destitution, but we can just as destructively fill our kids heads with off the cuff, unbiblical philosophies that will become the foundation of future thinking.
Don’t be reckless in your parenting. Don’t just let your kids listen to that music or see that movie or read that book or hang out with those friends just because every other kid their age is doing it. Destruction is the cost of indiscriminate parenting.
2. Cowardly Parenting Leads to Capture.
There are two sides to this coin. On one side a cowardly parent is taken captive by their fears. They become paralyzed by their parenting responsibilities and end up not parenting at all.
In Mark 5 a parent is told that their daughter is dead. But Jesus tells him, “Do not fear, only believe.” Too often we stop acting because we think our kids are too far gone or nothing we can do will ever matter. But Jesus calls us to believe in Him. He’s the one who does the work.
But the other side of this cowardice-leads-to-capture coin is that our cowardice will lead to our kids being capture by sin. When we fearfully fall back and leave our kids on the front lines with no support, guidance, or backup, we often damn them to failure. How can we expect a middle-schooler to stand up against the atheistic, sexually perverted, God-hating propaganda when we won’t even make our voices heard in the PTA?
Our kids need us, and if we chicken out of our God-given decree, our family will be captured.
Are you a fearful parent? Episode 40 is called “Fearless Parenting,” and our “Peaceful Parenting” series starts in episode 69. I pray those shows can help you find peace in Who God is.
Don’t be afraid of what the world might do or say to your kids. Matthew 10:28-32, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Our only fear should be a fear of failing God.
3. Angry Parenting Leads to Disrespect.
Sun Tzu described this as “a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults.”
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: yes, there are Christ-honoring ways to be angry, and we talk all about that in previous shows. Obviously, I’m discussing sinfully angry parenting for this point.
Are you easily provoked by your kids’ disobedience and lip? Do you respond hastily to foolishness?
When parents lose control, they also lose respect. Let me say that one more time: When parents lose control, the also lose respect.
How do you feel when you’re watching a movie and the bad guy just burst into the room or a car accident takes place and there’s someone who could be helpful in addressing the problem, but they’re freaking out, melting down, or catatonically incapable of helping? I don’t know about you, but that annoys the living daylights out of me.
And it also annoys our kids when we can’t control our anger . . . especially when we’re angry at them for not being able to control their anger. It breeds disrespect so easily.
Ephesians 6:4 tells us not to provoke our kids to anger, and Colossians 3:21 builds on that by reciting the same command but adding “lest they become discouraged.”
Many of you know what it’s like to work for an unreasonable employer. You understand how chaffing and strenuous that is. Don’t do that to your kids.
If you’re an easily provoked parent, you’re not parenting in Christ . . . you’re not an ambassador; you’re parenting for you.
And there’s a theme among these first three. The reckless parent acts without thinking due to arrogance, the cowardly parent acts without thinking due to uncontrolled emotions, and the angry parent acts without thinking due to both.
Our children should be able to trust us to lead them well. We are in a war, remember. How scary is it to have to obey a general who cares more about himself than his soldiers?
4. Delicate Parenting Leads to Shame.
Sun Tzu referred to a general whose “delicacy of honor” makes him sensitive to shame. Now, I can tell you that Sun Tzu’s understanding of shame is not the Christ-honoring shame we discussed in our “Children and Shame” series.
The shame to which Sun Tzu is referring deals with the ancient oriental concept of Bad Shame brought on by perceived dishonor — the extension of another’s dishonor felt by me, the over-exaggeration of personal dishonor, stuff like that.
It’s always appropriate to experience the Good Shame that accompanies sinful choices. But too many parents feel shame concerning things over which they have no control. Some experience inordinate amounts of shame that their teenager is wayward or behind in school or pregnant. Even parents of young children can feel ashamed when their child suffers with a genetic disease that stunts their development.
Now, I don’t want to tread too heavily here, but we have to grapple with the fact that such shame truly is a matter of pride — either that or it’s a misuse of vocabulary.
It’s appropriate to “feel bad” for a child whose experiencing the consequences of sin or the effects of having been born into a broken creation. But to be personally ashamed of someone’s else’s actions is pride. Only twice is the phrase “I am ashamed” used in Scripture. One is being spoken by someone who has sinned, and the other was voiced by a man who’s pride would be wounded to have to beg.
Every other usage of Good Shame in the Bible dealt with the shame another should experience. Therefore, when communicating to our kids about their poor choices, it’s appropriate to say “You should be ashamed,” but not necessarily “I’m ashamed of you.”
And, what’s interesting is that a person who’s tempted to experience Bad Shame in parenting and responds pridefully is likely going to do and say sinful things that will bring upon them the Good Shame of their choices.
Does your children’s sin chafe your ego? This response is the opposite of the angry parent; instead of blowing up at the kid, this one will try to hide. Do you hide from other parents? Do you dislike going to church because you’re ashamed of your broken family?
Like we said to the angry parent, this is not about us. What does God want us to do? How does He want us to live? It’s a shame to sin, so it’s a shame to allow our honor to be so delicate that it’s pridefully pricked by the brokenness and struggle in our home.
I love James 5:13-20. People often think that passage is referring to people who are physically sick, and I suppose that having the pastor pray over you isn’t necessary a bad thing, but the verse “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up,” isn’t referring to illness. The whole passage deals with our sinful weakness.
I’m going to read the passage and provide a more accurate translation of the difficult verses: “Is anyone among you enduring hardships? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you weak in the faith? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is weak, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working . . . . My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
When there is brokenness and sin and hardships in our family, we shouldn’t hide, we should throw the doors open and invite people in. If we’re spiritually weak, we shouldn’t be pridefully ashamed of that, we should confess our sins to others and invite them to pray for us. We should repent of our sins and allow others to bring us back from our wandering.
Alright, 1. Reckless Parenting Leads to Destruction.
2. Cowardly Parenting Leads to Capture.
3. Angry Parenting Leads to Disrespect.
And 4. Delicate Parenting Leads to Shame.
Lastly, 5. Worrisome Parenting Leads to Trouble.
Now, some of you may be tempted to think that Sun Tzu misses the mark here. He says one of the five faults of a general is “over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.” The word over-solicitude refers to a care and concern that Sun Tzu believes has gone overboard.
And I can understand how a Christ-honoring parent mights ask, “Are you suggesting we can love our kids too much?”
No, I’m not. Most of you will know exactly where I stand on the concept of biblical love from our “Four Family Loves” series. It’s impossible to have too much true biblical love for our kids.
So, how does Sun Tzu determine if the general has too much care and concern for his soldiers? If the general experiences worry and trouble due to the fear he has for his soldiers.
I’ve met too many parents who justify their worry by saying things like, “Well, I am the mother,” or “It’s a sinful world out there.”
Biblically, the concepts of worry, anxiety, and fear are all the same thing . . . just to differing degrees or applications. Whereas the cowardly parent is kept from doing what they should do because they’re afraid for themselves, the worried parent keeps their kids from doing things they should potentially be doing out of fear for the kids.
Worry is inverse cowardice. Now, my goal is not to get too caught up in the semantics. Sure, you can be worried about something that will happen to you. My point is to help us see that regardless of to where our fear is pointed, if it’s not the fear of the Lord, it’s sin.
I Peter 3 has an extended section for wives. He says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”
And then he explains what that respectful and pure conduct looks like: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
That last line is so important for us: “If you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” Many worriers believe that they fear because they are in a frightening situation. In their minds, fear is being forced upon them from the outside versus growing from their own spirits. In reality, the whole of life is scary. Humans are impotent beings with no control over anything, who can die from a nearly infinite number of factors including microscopic organisms by which they are surrounded at all times.
However, those realities alone need not produce fear. Humans only fear when they shed their delusion of control and yet have no trustworthy replacement. That first step, acknowledging their inability to control the events of their lives, is actually a healthy and vital step. However, without taking the necessary second step, understanding that there is Someone in control Who can be trusted, the parent will be unable to shed their fear.
“There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction; (2) cowardice, which leads to capture; (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame; (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble. These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the conduct of war. When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.”
And this is true not because Sun Tzu observed it but because God created the world and gets to decide how it’s going to work.
God forbid our families be overthrown because we weren’t taking orders from the correct sovereign. God forbid our families be overthrown because we didn’t prepare them for the inevitable, daily onslaught of Satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh. God forbid our families be overthrown because we were self-worshipping generals more concerned with our opinions, fears, tempers, honor, and worries.
Please share this episode, especially if your friend likes “The Art of War” or wants to be the parent God called and created them to be, and join us next time as we ask “What Is Your Family Idol?”
We’re going to review the idea of spiritual idolatry, but then equip us with the knowledge necessary to identify our individual and family idols.
Remember, if you’re looking for personalized help, you can reach out to us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com. We’d love to be whatever blessing we can be.
This is a war, and parenting comes with a lot of responsibility and temptations. I know. You know. Truth.Love.Parent. wants to equip you to overcome the enemy to the glory of God.
So, to that end, I’ll see you next time.
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