Fruit That Increases to Their Credit
Updated: Sep 11, 2018
Article by Kathleen Shumate
My daughter was saving up her money to get me a piece of jewelry that was pricey for a seven-year-old’s budget. I was greatly honored by her generosity, but I wrestled inside with how to respond. I don’t want my little girl to spend her hard-earned money on me, and yet I want her to want to spend her hard-earned money on others. It’s not merely about money. I want to raise children who give freely to others in every way, who put others above themselves, and who are eternity-minded.
In chapter 4 of his letter to the Philippians, Paul thanks them for partnering with him by giving to meet his needs, even though he is empowered by Christ to be content in both plenty and hunger. He praises their generosity and then says, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (Philippians 4:17).
Paul is a spiritual father leading his children in the faith. He is primarily thankful not for what he receives, but that their giving is creating lasting spiritual fruit in them. In many ways, Paul’s encouragement and admonition to the church bear resemblance to how we train up our children. We are called to be content in Christ with regard to the ups and downs of parenthood, but always to urge our children on to bearing the fruit that increases to their credit.
Dying to ourselves: what should it mean?
As parents, we have a unique opportunity to die to ourselves. Few other roles in life require as much sacrifice as raising children in the Lord, or provide as much occasion for the Spirit to work for our sanctification. Children begin life in the outside world as dependent and helpless infants, and we have to give ourselves over to their needs completely. But as they grow, we cannot allow them to remain utterly self-centered. As they develop physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, growing in their capacity to think outside themselves, we present them with opportunities to look to others’ interests before their own. We teach and train them even before they understand it completely.
In many ways, our children abuse our love and kindness, out of developmental immaturity or plain old sin. And we bear with it because it’s a cost of parenting, and the rewards are as wonderful as the challenges are hard. My twin babies do not thank me for nursing them a million times a day and my toddlers scream at me when I do the unthinkable and make them take a nap. Of course, they have to bear with me in my sin a lot, and we know God bears with all of us in unimaginable patience and kindness. But even in his forbearance, God always desires and pursues our holiness without apology. We should have the same kind of love for our children.
It’s an easy mistake to allow our children to continue dictating our lives long after they should be learning to submit first and foremost to God, and by His design, to us. There are parenting philosophies that essentially advocate for allowing children to run their lives according to their own felt needs and desires—which means they run their parents’ lives as well. It’s presented as being very gentle, but it’s ultimately destructive. It seems like a Christian value to put our children before ourselves. And it is, provided that we are putting their eternal needs before their fleeting whims. The sacrificial nature of parenthood does not mean denying ourselves in order to feed our children’s selfishness and sin, but to feed their souls with Jesus’ eternal bread.
We have two pitfalls to avoid. One is modeling selfishness before our children, hoarding for ourselves instead of giving to them what they need, so that they too learn to be selfish and miserly or else afraid of lack. The other is being too indulgent with our children so they come to believe they are the most important thing in the world, and they become selfish and grasping, unable to think of others’ needs. Neither is the Christian way.
Training our children in love and holiness
We train our children for life in vivo. I require that my kids treat me with love, respect, and obedience because God commands it, and because I want to train them up to be loving, respectful, and appropriately obedient people. Our desire for our children’s holiness may sometimes seem like we are demanding our own rights, but we are really advocating for their ultimate good.
My children cannot willfully make huge messes, not merely because I don’t want to clean it up, but because it’s a disrespectful thing to do, and they must learn to value other people and their time and energy. My children cannot hit me or yell at me (or anyone else) when they’re angry, not merely because I don’t like it, but because the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, and it is an unacceptable and ineffective response.
On the positive side, my children take ownership and responsibility in our home and in their education, not because I’m lazy and don’t like to do housework, but because they need to learn how to live as independent adults. Even more so, they need to see themselves as stewards of all God has given them, and know that his expectations for their talents don’t involve burying (Matt 25:14-30).
My children are learning to put others before themselves, not because I’m hoping to get something out of them for myself, but because this is what our Lord modeled and commands us to emulate. The first will be last and the last first. I model this other-centeredness in my relationship with them, but I also expect them, as they mature, to treat me in the same way.
When my children gift me with tangible gifts or the intangible pleasure of seeing them live out their faith in selfless love, I delight first and foremost that they are increasingly imaging their Heavenly Father. Like Paul with the Philippians, I don’t seek the gift, but I’m working to see the Spirit’s fruit built up in my children for their eternal good and God’s eternal glory.