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The Apostle Paul on Parenting

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  • Dr. James Boyd

    Continuing with the imagery of a letter of recommendation, Paul writes 2 Cor. 3:2-3 to add detail to the picture of parenting that he began in verse 1. Having just said that God is the only one we must please as parents, that being a parent is letting God raise our kids through us, and that the child is the letter of recommendation, Paul now goes on to add detail to the character of the letter of recommendation.    

    Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone. It is clear that you are Christ’s letter,produced[a] by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God—not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (HCSB)

    What is the character of this letter of recommendation that Paul identifies as the Corinthians? Paul says that this letter is “recognized and read by everyone.” In other words, this is no secret letter. Everyone who interacts or observes the children knows something about the parents since the children are the letter of recommendation. In this sense, Paul is appealing to external, objective evidence. Paul is not claiming to be something that only his closest companions know about. Instead, everyone who sees his spiritual children should know something about Paul. He is deferring to and relying on the Corinthians’ walk with Christ to defend his spiritual parenting of them. “But my kids have a will of their own” you say “and they make bad choices that don’t reflect my values.” I think Paul would agree. His overall motive for writing to the Corinthians was to increase their joy in Christ by correcting them. So Paul knew that his spiritual children did not always reflect godly values. Yet, it was to this sinful bunch of church folks in Corinth that he identifies as the very evidence of his sound parenting. How on earth can this be?

    If Paul knew his children were imperfect, and it is clear that he did, then he must not have been alluding to their perfection as the evidence of good spiritual parenting. When people read the Corinthians’ letter of recommendation about Paul, they did not read “Paul parented us to an immediate perfection.” Instead, the letter of recommendation declared that by Paul’s parenting, they were: hideous sinners who were relying on the truth that Christ took the death that they deserved,  accepting Christ’s gift of righteousness, and being transformed daily by the powerful grace of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. This letter points well to Paul’s ability to parent spiritually. Our children will sin. They will rebel. When they do, however, are we leading them by kindness to repent, rely on Christ, and be transformed “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

    What do your children reveal about your parenting? Does their thinking point to parents who pretend to be perfect on the outside, but are full of dead men’s bones on the inside (Matt. 23:27- Remember that this accusation was leveled against the Pharisees) or do your children’s lives reveal that you are someone who openly admits to needing the healing power of Christ in your life. Does their humility reveal that you rely on His death for the forgiveness of your sins and that you thankfully depend on His gift of perfect righteousness? Does their spiritual growth and maturity reveal to all who “read” them that you are daily being transformed by the Spirit applied Word of God? If this is the letter of recommendation that they offer about you, then you are parenting well. If this is not their testimony, then we have not parented as Paul parented. Remember, we are not perfect parents, and our children will not be perfect kids, but their living hope in Christ can point to how we have parented well by God’s grace.    


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