By Greg Littlejohn
The most precious gift that God has given to us is the sacrifice of his only Son for our sins. But what would be the next greatest gift that he has given us? Answer: The second greatest gift given to us, his children, is our own children, “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him” (Psa. 127:3). With this in mind, let’s take a look at what God’s word says about our children.
Israel. The Israelites are often times condemned by modern Christians for their lack of faith, and for turning against God even though he had just performed some miracle for their benefit. And although this criticism may be deserved, one of the major causes of Israel’s lack of faith stemmed from a problem that is most prevalent today. They failed to instruct their children in the ways of the Lord. This failure is evident from their history.
At many points in their history, the children of Israel turned away from God. One such instance is recorded in the second chapter of the book of Judges, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judg. 2:10-11). The previous generation’s failure properly to teach its children about the effect of God’s guiding hand on the nation of Israel is doubtlessly a heavily contributing factor in the latter generation’s departure from God. If the nation as a whole had properly educated its young about the grace of God and all that he had done for them, this radical departure almost assuredly would not have taken place. Because of this failure to teach their children and their resultant turning away, Israel, in this instance, was plundered by raiders (Judg. 2:14). Similar scenarios occur throughout the books of Judges, I and 2 Kings, and other books in the Old Testament as well.
Thus, the entire nation of Israel suffered many times throughout its history because of the older generation’s failure to teach the younger generation. No doubt, much of their suffering could have been avoided had parents taken more time to teach their children about God and everything that he had done for them.
Today. Although the Old Testament is recorded for our learning, many people who do not learn from history subsequently are condemned to repeat it. The failure of Christian parents to educate their children about God today will result in serious problems for the children of today as it did for the generations who turned away from God in the Old Testament. However, instead of a danger of being savaged by another country, the children run the risk of losing their souls . . . a much greater loss to be sure.
Training. Few books in the Bible are a greater source of timeless wisdom than the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs, we see the effect of educating a child, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). Obviously, no matter how well a parent teaches a child, some children will stray from the path. But no single influence in a child’s life is greater than that of a parent. For this reason it is vital that we as parents teach our children the truth about God and what he has done for us.
Discipline. Over the past few decades this country has seen a gradual decline in family values and morality. This decline has in part been caused by the erosion of discipline. Noted psychologists attempting to improve on parenting offered new methods of rearing children. One such theorist suggested that parents refrain from telling a child “no.” Others said that any form of physical punishment is wrong. But God’s word gives us instruction in the rearing of children that does not agree with these “new and improved” ideas. “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (Prov. 23:13-14). Furthermore, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother” (Prov. 29:15). There can be no doubt that a child needs the active participation of both parents to discipline him. All one has to do today is look at the world around him and he will quickly see the effects of a lack of discipline on this country. Crime, poverty, nonexistent public morality, lack of respect for elders and others, the list goes on and on. And a large percentage of each of these problems can be attributed to a lack of parental discipline.
The nuclear family, which used to be the norm, has become a dying breed. With the split of the nuclear family, even those still in existence are marred by a myriad of problems which all stem from a lack of parental love for children. Even Hollywood has identified the problem. Note the following quote from a recent blockbuster movie where a mother is watching her son talk to a cyborg. “Watching John with a machine, it was suddenly so clear. The terminator would never stop. It would never leave him. And it would never hurt him. Never shout at him or get drunk and hit him. Or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there and it would die to protect him. Of all the wouldbe fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only one who measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice” (Terminator 2: Judgment Day). It has become a truly sad day when a machine could ever be viewed as a better father than a person.
What to teach? Parents need to teach their children about God. This sounds perfectly simply, and it is! Paul’s concern for parenting is evidenced in his letter to the saints in Ephesus where he wrote, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). But just what is “the training and instruction of the Lord?”
As parents, we must teach our children everything that we know about God. And in order that we may be able to know as much as we can to teach them, we must study God’s word regularly. This does not mean that we should be satisfied with being prepared for Sunday morning Bible study. That is just a starting point. Our study must go beyond that to other topics or areas of concern tht we face in everyday life. Furthermore, we must never lose sight of the basic, fundamental principles of God’s word, which would include, among other things, God’s plan of salvation and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
Proper biblical authority must also be emphasized. The denominational world has run afoul many times simply by virtue of a failure to find proper biblical authority for their actions. We must stress the importance of proper authority for everything that we do in our worship of God and in living our lives. Failure to search for proper authority can lead well-intended individuals down a slippery slope that ends far away from God and what he wants us to do for him. Thus, we must always emphasize to our children that we have the proper authority for doing everything that we do.
God’s greatest gift to us was given out of his love for us. We must be certain that we never forget that everything that God does for us he does out of his love for us. and we must never forget to emphasize this great love that God has shown for us to our children. When we explain to our children how God’s great love has affected our lives in a very positive manner, they will understand why we love him. In turn, they will be able to love God when they see everything that he has done and will do for them.
God’s love for us manifests itself in the blessings that he bestows upon us. We must tell our children about all the blessings that God has given us, both physical and spiritual. These blessings range from the sacrifice of his Son on the cross for our sins to the food on our tables, the clothes on our backs, and the roofs over our heads. Yet another great blessing, one I believe to be under-emphasized by most Christians, is that of prayer. It is a blessing to know we have the opportunity to go to our Father in prayer at any time of the day and he will always listen to us. Futhermore, we know that he will answer our prayers, although not always in the way that we may want if we ask for something that we should not ask for or something that is not in our best interests.
Furthermore, we must be certain to teach our children the gospel plan of salvation (hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized, and remain faithful) so that when they reach the age of accountability, they will be able to act on their faith. What good would it be to know everything else if a person did not know how to act on his faith? After all, faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:26).
How to Teach? How to teach is more important than what to teach because if we do not teach our children in the correct way, it will not matter what we teach because they will not learn.
First, we must teach in word. We must always be teaching them about God, not just helping them with their lessons on Saturday night. Our instruction should be ongoing, similar to Paul’s instruction to the saints in Thessalonica to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17). Whether you are home or away, day or night, weekday or weekend, instruction about God is a must.
Second, we must teach by our actions. If a parent says one thing and does another (i.e. a hypocrite), a child will soon learn that what mom or dad says does not really matter. You just say what they want to hear and then go off and do whatever you want. However, if a child hears you talking about God and then sees you acting upon your beliefs, this will re-enforce what you have taught. And, as James wrote, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
Conclusion. As parents, we love our children intensely and want only what is best for them. And what could be better for them than giving them the knowledge about God and the opportunity to be pleasing to him? Or instead do we want to keep them ignorant or confused and risk the loss of their souls for eternity? Would a truly loving parent willfully put his child in harm’s way for no good reason? Therefore, we should teach our children about God because we love him and we love them.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 20, pp. 620-621
October 15, 1992