As parents, we have a mandate to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). The backbone for accomplishing this training program is through the pages of Scripture. And one of the themes that Rhonda and I found particularly appealing in teaching our children were the parables of Jesus.
When Jesus was here in the flesh, He primarily taught His followers in three ways: through direct instruction (the Sermon on the Mount), by His example (washing His disciples feet), and by storytelling (the parables). Each of these methods has an appropriate time and place in how we teach our children.
In this upcoming series of posts, we will focus on what we learn from His storytelling; what we learn in the parables of Jesus. The parables are a description of what living in God’s kingdom looks like. Many of the parables begin with, “The kingdom of God is like…” or its synonym, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”. And the wide range of stories that Jesus told give us insight both into the theology of the kingdom as well as its everyday application.
I like to think of our families as little outposts of God’s kingdom here on earth; a place where God’s reign is evident. With that picture in mind, I propose we launch off into our series with an eye toward what we and our children can learn about kingdom living from the parables of Jesus.
2 thoughts on “Parenting with the Parables – Introduction”
Thanks for choosing the Parables to teach us lessons in raising our children. Although my two children (boy and girl) are now grown, I would like to recommend two resources. One is the helpful insights of Dr. Thomas Constable obtained through his exposition of the Prodigal Son (better, the Story of the Forgiving Father). His words are included below. The other is secular, but was worth its weight in gold in helping us raise our children (and give uniquely helpful to those who came to us when we served local churches in the ministry. That resource is available through Amazon.com:
============================================================IIInsightful Excerpts from
Dr. Thomas Constable’s Bible Study Notes
on the Gospel of Luke (2014 Edition)
Dr. Constable taught for 40 years
on the Faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary
The parable of the lost son 15:11-32
This third parable in the series again repeats the point of the former two, that God gladly receives repentant sinners, but it stresses still other information. The joy of the father, in the first part of the parable, contrasts with the grumbling of the elder brother in the second part. The love of the father was equal for both of his sons. Thus the parable teaches that God wants all people to experience salvation and to enter the kingdom.
“This parable is often called ‘The Prodigal Son,’ but it is really about different reactions to the prodigal. The key reaction is that of the father, who is excited to receive his son back. Thus a better name for the parable is ‘The Forgiving Father.’ A sub-theme is the reaction of the older brother, so that one can subtitle the parable with the addendum: ‘and the Begrudging Brother.'”526
The younger son 15:11-24
The man in the story “had two sons,” a “younger” one and an “older” one (v. 25). Now the “younger” son’s inheritance would normally have been one-third of his father’s estate, since the older son would have received a double portion (Deut. 21:17). However, a disposition of the father’s estate before his death probably would have yielded this son about two-ninths of the total.527 Jesus did not explain the exact terms of the settlement since they were insignificant details. However, the younger son’s request evidently precluded any future claim on his father’s estate (v. 19).
Normally the inheritance did not pass to the heirs until the death of the father. To request it prematurely was tantamount to expressing a wish that the father would die.
This father’s willingness to accommodate his younger son’s request shows that he was gracious and generous, and it illustrates God’s willingness to permit each person to go his or her own way. Possibly the older son also received his inheritance at the same time (v. 31), though this is not certain. The implication is that the younger son was an older teenager, since men usually married about then, and this young man was apparently unmarried.
Evidently the younger son turned his assets into cash, and then departed to “live it up.” He may have wanted to “find himself,” but he ended up losing himself. In the first parable, the sheep got lost because of its nature to wander away. In the second, the coin was lost due to circumstances beyond its control. In this third parable, the son gets lost as a result of his own choice. Feeding pigs was, of course, unclean work for a Jew, and a job that any self-respecting Jew would only do out of total desperation (Lev. 11:7). However, the younger son was willing to do this because his need had become so great. He changed his mind and his attitude, and decided to make a change in his behavior. The son’s proposal to his father, as well as his planned speech, shows the genuineness of his humility and repentance. He was willing to serve his father as a day laborer (“hired” hand), since his father had a reputation for paying his servants generously (v. 17).
Since the father “saw” his son while he was still a great distance from his house, he had apparently been scanning the distant road daily hoping to see him. The father’s “compassion” reflects some knowledge of his son’s plight. Perhaps he had kept tabs on him since he left home. The father put feet to his feelings by running out to meet his son, even though it was undignified for an older man to run in Jesus’ culture. Embracing and kissing him continually also expressed the father’s loving acceptance (cf. Gen. 45:14-15; 33:4; 2 Sam. 14:33; Acts 20:37). This attitude also contrasts with the elder brother’s attitude and the Pharisees’ attitude. The father initiated the restoration of fellowship before the son could finish his confession. This shows the father’s eagerness to forgive. The word translated “kissed” (Gr. katephilesen) may mean either “kissed many times” or “kissed tenderly.” Evidently the father cut his son’s confession short, because he knew what was in his heart (cf. 1 John 4:18). Rather than simply accepting his son back, much less making him a servant, the father bestowed the symbols of
honor, authority, and freedom on him (cf. Gen. 41:42; Esth. 3:10; 8:8).536 Sandals and a ring were marks of a free man, but slaves went barefooted.
Then he prepared a banquet for him, which in Jesus’ story probably represents the messianic banquet (13:29; 14:15-24). People in Jesus’ day ate far less meat than modern westerners do, so eating meat indicates a very special occasion.
“Everything the younger son had hoped to find in the far country, he discovered back home: clothes, jewelry, friends, joyful celebration, love, and assurance for the future. What made the difference? Instead of saying, ‘Father, give me!’ he said, ‘Father, make me!’ He was willing to be a servant!”
The son had determined to leave the father permanently, and so was “dead” and “lost” to his father. He now had new “life” and was “found” (cf. Eph. 2:1-5).
The older brother 15:25-32
Jesus pictured the older brother, symbolic of the Pharisees and scribes, as working hard for the father. The Jews, as well as the Jewish religious leaders, equally enjoyed the privileged status of an older brother in the human family, because God had chosen them for special blessing (Exod. 19:5-6). The older brother was outside the banquet, having missed it apparently because of his preoccupation with work and his distant relationship with his father. For him, and for the Pharisees, all was based on merit and reward. He viewed himself more as the father’s servant than as his son.
The older son’s anger, at the father’s forgiveness and acceptance of his brother, contrasts with the father’s loving compassion demonstrated by his coming out and entreating him. Similarly, the Pharisees grumbled because God received sinners and welcomed them into His kingdom (v. 2). Nevertheless God reached out to them through Jesus, just like the father reached out to his older son. The same tenderness marked the father’s dealings with the elder brother as marked his dealings with the younger brother.
After a disrespectful address (“Look here!”), the older son boasted of what he had done for his father, and than blamed him for not giving him more. Clearly he felt that the father’s response should have reflected justice rather than grace. He was counting on a reward commensurate with his work (cf. Matt. 20:12). This hardly reflects a loving relationship.
“He hasn’t stayed home because he loved his father, but because working in his fields was a way to get what he wanted.”
Wiersbe pointed out parallels between the prodigal’s coming to his father and the sinner coming to God through Christ. The prodigal was lost (v. 24); Jesus said, “I am the way.” The prodigal was ignorant (v. 17); Jesus said, “I am the truth.” The prodigal was dead (v. 24); Jesus said, “I am the life” (John 14:6).
The older son refused to acknowledge his brother as his brother, since he had so dishonored his father. By calling him his father’s son (“this son of yours”), he was implying that the father shared his younger son’s guilt. Everyone in this chapter experienced joy except this elder brother.
The father responded to the older son’s hostility with tenderness and reason. The Greek word teknon, translated “child” or “son,” is a term of tender affection. The father pointed out his older son’s privileged position, as always benefiting from his father’s company. This was a uniquely Jewish privilege that the nation’s religious leaders enjoyed particularly (cf. Rom. 3:1-2; 9:4). “All” that God “had” was Israel’s, in the sense that they always had access to it—because of the privileged relationship He had established with the nation. The older son could have celebrated with a fattened calf whenever he wanted. It was necessary (right, not just good; “we had”) “to celebrate” the return of sinners, implying that the older brother should have joined in the rejoicing. The reason for the rejoicing was the salvation of the lost (“this brother of yours was dead”—and now lives). The parable closes with the father’s implied invitation to the older son to enter the banquet. That invitation was still open to the Pharisees when Jesus told the parable.
“Thus the parable teaches that God loves sinners, that God searches for sinners, that God restores sinners, and that God confers the privileges and blessings of sonship on those who return to Him.”
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