1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you. 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. 10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you - a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant - then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 13 Fear the Lord your God, serve Him only and take your oaths in His name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and His anger will burn against you, and He will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees He has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said. 20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous signs and wonders - great and terrible - upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But He brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.
Our world keeps changing at an ever-increasing speed. Some of the changes are wonderful, and many of them clearly, are not. Having been educated in the 1970’s in South Africa, I was among the last generation to receive structured Scriptural teaching at school. Each day at assembly we would recite the Lord’s Prayer, and we’d sing hymns too.
A common complaint you hear these days among parents and grandparents is that they are so sad and sometimes even angry that all Christian teaching has been removed from our schools and to all intents and purposes it is now illegal.
However, if you think about it, and if you read what the Bible has to say, raising Godly children has always been the task of parents. School teachers are to teach our kids to read and write, but if as parents we have also expected them to tell our kids about Jesus, then we have been shirking our responsibilities as Christian parents.
God’s intention for the family unit, and the Christian family in particular, has always been that the family is to be a foundation for the life of faith.
We’ve all seen the rather dramatic video clips of tall buildings being destroyed by controlled explosions. Interestingly enough, most of the explosives are placed underground inside the foundations. If you want to destroy a building, destroy the foundations first. And this is what satan has been doing to the family ever since he first tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God. Break up the family unit and undermine good, old-fashioned family values, and the rest of society will crumble. Just look at the mess we see in the world today. The eroding of the family has played a huge role in adding to all the sadness and confusion around us.
A point we sometimes miss is that God created the family long before He created the Church. The Christian Church is only 2000 years old, so where did teaching about God happen before that? In the family. And when you read Scripture, you’ll see that it has always been His intention that one’s faith should be passed along generational lines. I’d encourage you to read Deuteronomy 6 again, and read it carefully - from this passage, it is clear that God places a high value on the family. The global village we live in today is very different to how the family home was structured in Old Testament times. Imagine for a moment what it would have been like to live in a home that hosted several generations of the same family. This concept of passing biblical faith to the third and the fourth generations becomes much more understandable when you consider that parents and grandparents shared meals and performed daily tasks together. From birth, children in these homes learned the stories and doctrines of faith while sitting around the dinner table each evening and by working in the fields daily with older family members. This is how they were taught and how they learned to love God and to love others. And this cycle of biblical mentoring was repeated as new generations came along.
The mere fact that we no longer live in homes like this anymore, and our children and grandchildren are dotted all over the globe does not mean we are no longer responsible to teach our kids about Christ. In fact, if anything, we have an even greater responsibility now. It’s a big, bad, scary world out there, and this is why it is so important for us to build those early foundations of faith.
We know the words of Proverbs 22:6 very well – “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” In a world where the family has deteriorated and the Church is losing its influence on society, this simple passage holds several profound keys to restoring the family back to the purpose for which God originally intended. The question is whether or not we are willing to do what it takes.
The phrase, to train or raise up in the original language is not written as a suggestion. Rather, it is a command. One of the responsibilities of the home is to create a positive impression of who God is and what He is like in the hearts of children, but this does not mean compromising Biblical truth in order to make it easy for a child to believe. One of the first songs Christian kids learn is ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ Those words are absolutely true and are 100% theologically correct, but we also need to teach our children that God will not tolerate spiritual compromise, and the sooner they learn this, the easier it will be for them to stay true to God when faced with the smorgasbord of faiths and ethics the world will offer them when they grow older. They also need to be encouraged to move closer to God instead of further away from Him as they begin to learn one of life’s hardest lessons – the fact that life is hard, and very often it is just plain unfair. Chip Ingram, in his excellent teaching course ‘Effective Parenting In A Defective World’ says we have to teach our children that life is hard, but God is good.
It’s also worth pointing out that the writer of Proverbs uses a phrase in reference to the family that reflects back to the Jewish temple. The temple was considered to be the highest and holiest place in Jewish society, so could it be that God is placing the family at the same level? Is the family really that important to Him? I think we underestimate just how crucial the role of the family is in society.
Also, by raising up or training our children also means that we are to dedicate them to God, and this also takes us back to the principle of the temple. In ancient times the priests would prepare the Most Holy Place before a time of sacrifice, and they would do this by purifying the temple and everything in it as a symbolic act of honouring God’s holiness. The expectation was that when the people came to sacrifice and worship, God would reveal His glory to them.
But what does this have to do with raising Christian children in the 21st century? If the home is to be a place of daily worship, then should it not also be representative of God’s holiness? What this means is that what we watch on TV, what we do and say and our very our attitudes should reflect the purity and holiness of God. In other words, if our homes are to be places of worship, should we not treat them that way? Our homes and our families need to be reclaimed from worldly things and rededicated to God.
All too often, parents miss out on many of the most influential years of a child’s life because they are pursuing worldly things, like bigger homes, better cars or larger bank balances. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with nice things and material blessings, but at what sacrifice? It is so easy to be distracted by things that we lose perspective on the importance of investing our lives into the spiritual welfare of our children. No parent is perfect, and I would make many changes if I could turn the clock back twenty years, but we cannot just give up, because if we don’t teach our kids about Christ, who will? The schools aren’t allowed to, and the world doesn’t want to.
Lionel and Danielle are just beginning their adventure of parenthood. In a year’s time both of our children will have finished school, so we’re in a completely different place in our lives as parents. The vast majority of you sitting here today are grandparents and even great grandparents, so you may well be wondering what relevance all of this has to you. Let’s allow the Bible to answer that: “Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)
Your kids may be grown up, but they’re still your kids, and you should be encouraging them to raise Godly families themselves.
Christmas was just 3 days ago, and we are among the privileged who are able to bless our children and our grandchildren with material things. It’s wonderful to be able to spoil them with gifts, as it’s one of the ways we’re able to express our love for them, but again, we must keep our perspective of spiritual things. If you were here on Christmas morning you’ll remember that I said our greatest need is to be saved from the consequences of our sin. That is also our children and grandchildren’s greatest need. Jesus died for them too because they also need a Saviour, and the greatest gift we can give to them is not the most expensive present we can afford – it is to be a spiritual mentor to them.
If we don’t do that for them, how will the next generation learn to follow Christ?
The Christian writer Anne Ortlund wrote an excellent book on parenting, and the title itself is brilliant: “Children Are Wet Cement.” She asked her adult daughter to write the foreword for the book, and in it she says, “my mother wasn’t a great cook, but my mother – and my father too – were great at loving Jesus. That’s a terrific inheritance.”
Parents are to instruct and discipline their children. Too many parents in the modern world have bought into this idea that their child should be their friend. There is also the unbiblical concept that parents should allow children to do whatever they want so they can learn from their mistakes. Proverbs 22:6 says we are to train a child in the way they “should go” not “would go.” We are to love, nurture and protect our children but we are also called - Biblically – to discipline them too. Even though this idea flies in the face of conventional wisdom (or should that be conventional foolishness instead?) and in many cases the laws of the land, but as Christian parents we cannot and must not allow the world to tell us how to train and raise up Godly children. We send them out into the big, bad world with a rocky foundation of faith at our peril. We simply have to help them build as firm a foundation for their lives as possible. And we will only find that firm foundation in Scripture. There are some excellent books out there on parenting do’s and don’ts, but as believers in Jesus Christ, we must never forget that the Bible is our plumb line for Godly living, and we are to apply it in every aspect of our lives – including parenting. So whenever you hear conflicting ideas and suggestions, the simple question is, what does the Bible say?
When all is said and done, all that is left are the impressions of the home and family. This comes from the reference, “when he is old, he will not turn from it.”
When children leave home, the impressions, both positive and negative, live on in the lives of future generations. In other words, if a child is expected to not turn from Biblical teachings, then they must be modelled in the lives of the parents, and that place the responsibility of Godly living fairly and squarely on the shoulders of parents.
There’s a lot of wisdom in the old saying that the true lessons in life are usually caught more than taught. If all a child knows about following God is to go to Church on the occasional Sunday, don’t be surprised when the child drifts away from the faith after leaving home. Real faith is a daily process of dying to self and fully surrendering to Christ, and when children see their parents and grandparents dying to self and surrendering their lives to Christ, the possibility of them taking those lessons into their own adulthood are dramatically increased.
In the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel we are called to go and make disciples - a clear command from Jesus before He ascends into Heaven. Yet that call did not just start after Jesus lived, died and rose again. That has been the call to parents throughout the ages.
There is a clear link between the call of the Church to make disciples and the call of the family to bear and raise their children to be Godly disciples. This is also echoed in what Peter preaches at the end of Acts 2: “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
Can you see the link? The promise that Peter is referring to here is the covenant promise of God we see throughout the entire Bible, and it is given to you, to your kids and to the world.
Making disciples is about going to the other side of the world if that’s where God calls you, and it’s about making disciples in our own town too, but most importantly it’s about making disciples under our own roofs.
Joshua is the man who succeeded Moses and led the Israelites into the Promised Land, and just before his death he gave the Israelite nation a challenge, which applies as much to Christian families today as it did to the Israelites then: “Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)
So, just how important is family discipleship? Maybe it’s a lot more important than we realise. So many congregations put all their efforts and energy into various different ministries, and as good and as important as those things are, we must guard against neglecting the family, and invest in the spiritual upbringing of those God has entrusted us with. History has proven than when the family unit is weak, so is society in general.
Teach your kids about Jesus. If they are grown up and have kids of their own, pray for them and implore them to teach their kids about Jesus.
Family is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, and the family is under attack possibly more now than it has ever been. Are you able to say with determination and absolute clarity in your hearts and minds, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord?”