Sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and even Planned Parenthood counselors contend that love is the single most important ingredient in parenting. Love is a powerful agent in any type of relationship. That’s one point on which everyone agrees. Nevertheless, it’s perhaps the most misunderstood emotion, especially in America. For many, it’s been reduced to a symbol rather than something of substance. One U. S. stamp has a heart on it with the words “I love you.” A postal clerk said it is one of the most popular designs. 1 thought to myself, more symbolism.
Teenage America is bombarded by this kind of symbolism through music, commercial advertising, and even religion. Yet they aren’t finding substance or meaning. This generation of teens needs to know and experience the love of God through Jesus, who can break through the meaningless deception of symbolism. If their homes were reinforced by God’s love, their lives would be much different.
We need to return to the basics and learn the true meaning of love, which is represented by God’s gift of His Son on the cross. It’s difficult to comprehend how the cross could be one of the most popular fashion-symbols without its true meaning being understood. How did a great Christian nation lose its understanding of God when the hippie movement, perhaps the strangest subculture in American history, was touched by it?
Christian and non-Christian parents know there’s a heavy price to pay for not loving their kids as they should. The terrible effects of dysfunctional love permeate our society. The evening news reports one story of sexual abuse after another. I’ve looked into the pain-filled eyes of teenage boys and girls whose lives have been devastated by dysfunctional love. They need to experience the love of Jesus to understand what real love is. Without the love of Jesus moving and living within our being, we and the church will not amount to anything more than a religious club, the symbol without the substance. As the apostle Paul said, “If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever” (1 Corinthians 13:3, TLB). In other words, we can do religious things but if we don’t have the supernatural love of God in our lives, we will fail as parents and as a church. Ultimately, our children will suffer.
In Revelation 2:1-7, the apostle John was commanded to write a letter to the leader of the church in Ephesus. After commending the church for its good works, John said, “You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:4,5). Could it be we’ve lost our “first love” for God? That excitement we had when we first felt His hand on our lives? The awe of being in His presence? The first commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
A BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF LOVE
How does the Bible define love? Dr. Paul E. Paino, author of Catechism in Doctrine, provides an understanding of the three words for love used in the original Greek of the New Testament:
Eros is the root for “erotic.” It relates to physical attraction or infatuation. It’s a very weak kind of love and cannot be the basis for a fulfilling, sustained relationship. It is based on the desire for pleasure and seeks selfish goals.
Phileo means “brotherly love.” It refers to an emotional bond or friendship. We develop friendships based on common values, circumstances, and goals. The family is the first unit for establishing friendships, and it’s normal and right for siblings to be friends. Parents also should be friends with their children as well as being authority figures. The Bible teaches that young men should treat young ladies as sisters and friends rather than romantic conquests. It’s also important for Christians to develop friendships with other believers. This is one of the values of a local church.
Agape, the word for godly, selfless love, is translated “charity” in the King James Version of the Bible. It is a love based on giving. Love is the fruit of the Spirit and therefore is not determined by the “worthiness” of the person receiving the love. “Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8, KJV). Love is the unselfish response of people caring about the needs of others over the needs of self. “God so loved the world, that He gave . . .” (John 3:16, NASB). That will be our natural response when we love with an agape love. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, KJV).
There are other Greek words for love, but these three relate to the basic parts of man. Eros relates to the flesh, or I the physical part of man. Phileo relates to the soul. It is the | response of emotion, intellect, and personality. Agape relates to the spirit. It is only by God’s Spirit dwelling in us that our spirit can respond to others with genuine agape love.
All of us long for agape, or selfless, love. God has put a desire for such love in the heart of man. Our young people need to be exposed to such love to counteract the lies perpetrated by the media. As parents, we should be the channel for agape love. Our children need to see such love in us to gain a full appreciation of God’s love. Teenagers stand as targets in an unholy world. They have more pressures to deal with than ever before: sex, drugs, crime, peer pressure. Combined, they make for a potentially explosive situation. If they can look to us to relieve some of the pressure rather than adding to it and see the sacrificial, selfless love that only comes from God through His Son Jesus, they’ll be better equipped to withstand the onslaught of unrighteousness.
The benefits of modeling agape love are countless. We can preach, teach, and do all the “religious” things, but if we lack agape love, we won’t succeed in transferring our value system to our kids. We must not underestimate the value of unconditional love, the kind of love we receive from God. Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
DO OUR KIDS COME FIRST?
In a day when the nuclear family has attained a lifestyle of luxury, a new set of difficulties, circumstances, and pressures has developed for the family. Phrases such as “stressed out” and “burnout” have become household words. Unfortunately, what we do outside the home has become the priority for sustaining the home, rather than what we do in the home.
The time factor. Some parents contend they don’t have time to express God’s love to their teens. Their time is consumed by activities that don’t build the family or contribute to the nurturing of their children. The family rises at different times; they don’t eat breakfast together; “Good Morning America” is on the TV while the teenager listens to the radio in the bedroom or bathroom; Mom and Dad contemplate their daily schedule over a cup of Taster’s Choice. Soon, they’ll all go their separate ways to their separate responsibilities, rejoining one another in eight to ten hours. Maybe they’ll have a meal together, but then it’s off to various activities: meetings, homework, laundry… On the average, children spend less than an hour of interactive time with their parents on any given day.
An article in Group magazine reported what kids long to receive from their parents. They want:
to be trusted
to be independent while still answering to parents
to do things with their family
to love and be loved
to know their parents accept them for who they are
to laugh with their parents
But teens don’t want:
parents who are too busy for them
a “no” without an explanation
parents who don’t practice what they preach
parents who are dishonest and undependable
parents who never discuss family problems with them
Making the family a priority has become alien to our culture. Pastor Glen Cole of Sacramento, California, in speaking about priorities, said, “God comes first, the family comes second, and the church is third.” Simple equation, difficult task. Nothing in life is worth having at the expense of losing our teenagers to the world and, inevitably, to the fiery pit of hell.
Giving our time and our lives to our children is an essential expression of agape love. It takes time to build any relationship. The key is to start early, while our children are young, then continue to contribute to the relationship when they are teens.
LOVE AND THE REBELLIOUS CHILD
Rebellion has marked much of the youth culture for several generations. Few would argue that the media–via television, movies, and music–have played a major role in furthering the rebellion. A May 1993 Senate inquiry, of which several top Hollywood producers were present, addressed violence in television and movies. They agreed that violence on the screen needs to be curbed and vowed to work together. Unfortunately, it may come too late for many addicted to violence and steeped in rebellion.
How should a parent deal with rebellion? First, we must recognize some things happen simply because they’re teens. All teenagers go through major changes, and those changes often bring about a change in behavior. They vary in intensify teased on temperament, social climate, upbringing, and spiritual development. An age-level characteristics chart may help parents understand where their teen is physically and emotionally:
Rapid muscular growth
Retreats into fantasy world
Awkward, restless, lay
Looks for warm affection and humor in adult sponsors
Looks for assurances of security
Reaches physical maturity
Searching for ideals
Sexual maturity is reached
High interest in philosophical,
ethical, and religious problems
Prone to self-pity
High interest in physical being
The differences between junior and senior high are dramatic. Parents who understand these factors will better know how to relate to and pray for their teens.
Second, we must recognize our teens are not the enemy.
A parent commented, “Raising my fifteen-year-old has been real spiritual warfare.” Many parents feel that way about raising teenagers. The enemy targets the home and teens in particular. The devil is no fool; he takes advantage of the most tumultuous time in a person’s life to draw him away from God. Unfortunately, the teenager stands out as a prime target. In a counseling session, a parent said, “I wish we could pack everything up and leave the house to our (teenage) son.” That isn’t the answer, and the son isn’t the enemy. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “. . . Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Satan is the enemy, and unless we’re on guard, our kids will become his prey.
Rebellion is an evil seed planted in our hearts by Satan. Agape love, which hates the sin but loves the sinner, is powerful enough to destroy it. We must look beyond the natural into the spiritual realm where the apostle Paul identifies the source of the problem. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). God’s love is able to penetrate the darkness of evil. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Agape love is just such a weapon, but it’s been underestimated by the Christian community. It’s what redeemed us from our fallen state; it will do the same for our rebellious teens.
I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” This suggests that God’s love is not only an offensive weapon, it’s a defensive weapon as well, protecting us from the fiery missiles the enemy aims at our hearts. But when is the love of God activated? When we channel His mercy and grace to others in need. We have an advantage over the enemy when we surrender our feelings and respond to our teens in Christian love.
SPARE THE ROD
If we love our children, we will discipline them. Parents who do not have a consistent, loving, biblical approach to discipline do not have their children’s well-being at heart. This includes corporal punishment. Despite what secularists believe, the Bible is the final authority in determining truth for the Christian. This is what the Bible has to say about love and discipline:
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him–Proverbs 13:24.
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him–Proverbs 22:15.
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die–Proverbs 23:13.
The Word of God makes it clear that parents who love their children will discipline them.
If your home lacks agape love, go to the Source. God has an unlimited supply and desires to pour it out on His children.
Coco Perez graduated from Berean College with a major in Ministerial Studies. He is A.l.M. director for the Northern California/Neonda district of the Assemblies of God, which trains and equips young people for missionary work. He is also an evangelist based out of Capital Christian Center in Sacramento, California.
The Reverend Perez spent twelve years as a youth pastor and has been a camp speaker and seminar teacher on parenting. He has served on the boards of Teen Challenge and Youth for Christ.
He and his wife Lynn have two children: Jarus and Zachariah.