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Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parenting

I recently had the opportunity to read a few excerpts from one of the early church fathers, John Chryostom, who served in a variety of church roles in the first generation after the Roman Empire stopped actively persecuting Christians. Called “Golden-mouth” (Chryostom in Greek) for his articulation of the true, good, and beautiful, he was a prolific writer and speaker in his day and continues to be one of the most well-read early church leaders.

Living in the late 4th century, John Chrysostom wrote in a context that certainly looked, sounded, and smelled different than our own. However, when considering essences, the differences turn out to be fairly minor. Like ours, his culture was one of great flux and change, featuring strong pagan and Christian overtones. Like ours, his culture was reconsidering what it meant to be a citizen, a family member, a person. If one considers that people are always people, with the same problems and opportunities perennially at play, this comes at no surprise. Public sanitation and communication technology matters less than the state of the human heart! 

Family life was a particular interest for John Chrysostom. As I read these excerpts, they sounded like they were coined recently, not sixteen hundred years ago.  His description of parenting and education are particularly relevant to our situation. Like we tell our students, we would be wise to listen to the gems that people like John Chryostom gleaned from their experience with God, scripture, and the living-out of the Gospel. 

Here are just a few of his ideas that he shared through his book On Marriage and Life and his essay “Address on Vainglory.” 

This, then, is our task, to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness. 

Just as we see artists fashioning their paintings and statues with great precision, so we must care for these wondrous statues of ours... Like the creators of statues so you give all your leisure to fashioning these wondrous statues for God. 

First train his soul and then take thought for his reputation. 

If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surrounds himself with wealth, but who requires nothing...ponder deeply how you can teach him to think lightly of this life’s passing glories, thus he will become truly renowned and glorious…

Don’t strive to make him a clever orator, but teach him to love true wisdom. He will suffer if he lacks clever words, but if he lacks wisdom, all the rhetoric in the world can’t help him. A pattern of life is what is needed, not empty speeches; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These things will secure the Kingdom and bestow God’s blessings. 

All of these ideas and practices complement Scripture’s responsibility and privilege given to parents, including, 

train up your child in the way that he should go (Proverbs 22:6), 

bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4), and 

let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14). 

In these coming summer months, let us together look for opportunities to spend more time with our children, getting to know where they are in their growth, and walking more closely beside them to cultivate a desire to live wisely and rest their identity in Christ. 

Serving together,