Presentable Children and Whitewashed Tombs

As a Pastor I have at times felt and heard the expectation from others, why aren’t your children more well-behaved, as if a Pastor’s kids should be perfect, all the time. Now people don’t say it in so many words, but there is that pressure to have good, presentable children, as if the standard is immediate results rather than a changed heart.

Reb Bradley, in his post on Homeschool Blindspots, discusses the fallacy of emphasizing outward form.

Preoccupation with results often leads to emphasis on outward form. When we are preoccupied with achieving results it is natural to admire the results others seem to have achieved with their children. We like the way the pastor’s kids sit reverently in the front pew and take notes of their father’s sermon, so we go home and begin to teach our children to sit reverently and to take notes. What we don’t know is that the pastor’s kids conduct themselves with reverence and attentiveness not because he “cleaned the outside of the cup” and simply drilled them to do so — he lived a genuine love for Jesus that was contagious, and watched as the fruit was born (Matt 23:26). Parents are destined for disappointment when they admire fruit in others and seek to emulate merely that expression of fruit in their own children. Fruit is born from the inside — not applied to the outside.

Paul David Tripp calls this “apple-nailing.” We want good fruit, but instead of cultivating that good fruit through lifelong shepherding and caring for our child’s heart, we nail good apples onto a bad apple tree by forcing outward change without the inward heart motivation of a love for God. The short term result might be presentable children, but long term we are only painting the outside to look good while inside there is nothing but dead man’s bones (see Matthew 23:27).

Bradley I think strikes a nerve with many when he touches on a hot button issue, modesty.

I find it fascinating that in the gospels there is not one mention of Jesus coming against immodesty, even though among his followers were prostitutes and the like. Jesus emphasized cleaning up the inside while the Pharisees were the ones preoccupied with cleaning up the outside. We must ask ourselves: Which are we more like – Jesus or the Pharisees? Even now do we justify ourselves, insisting we emphasize cleaning up both the inside and the outside?

I know that some react strongly to these assertions, so let me emphasize that I do want my wife and daughters to adorn themselves modestly. God did address it once in the New Testament (1Tim 2:9), but we must ask ourselves, is it possible that we have elevated modesty, or other issues of outward form, higher than Jesus did? If he only mentioned modesty once in the epistles and never mentioned it in his earthly ministry, but instead emphasized the importance of a changed heart bearing outward fruit, should we not follow his example and concentrate on reaching our children’s hearts?

Don’t get caught up in the fallacy of outward form without inward heart change. God is the final judge, and he judges the heart, so don’t elevate other’s perceptions above what God is doing on the inside.

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