by David Prince
“Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments”
How many people do you know who have too much time on their hands? They are simply not busy enough and wish they could find more to do? How many families do you know that are burdened by too much free time?
We live in a busy world. Ours is a microwave, fast-food, sound-bite, instant world. USA Today is a popular newspaper primarily because it contains short sound-bite articles written on a basic level. Many do not possess the concentration level to read an entire book; television is much easier because one does not have think deeply or use one’s imagination. It is not uncommon to work over thirty minutes away from home and to spend much of life in traffic, irritated at all the other busy people rushing somewhere at two miles per hour in a traffic jam.
If this is the reality of the situation for most people, we must ask a question of utmost importance to Christians. In the midst of our busy lives, who is given the responsibility of rearing the next generation in the Christian faith? Who is given the responsibility of calling the next generation to hope in God?
First, let us begin by emphatically declaring it is parents (fathers in particular) and not the church who are given the primary responsibility for calling the next generation to hope in God. The church serves a supplementary role, reinforcing the biblical nurture that is occurring in the home. It is not the job of “professionals” at the church to rear the children of believers in the faith. Far too often, Sunday Schools, children’s ministries, and youth ministries have become substitutes for the home training of children. Christian parents have largely abdicated their God-given responsibility to insure that their children are instructed in the things of God.
Consider the biblical testimony:
- “And that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done . . . that you may know I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:2).
- Exodus 12:26-28, speaks of explaining to your children when they ask about the symbols of the faith (the Passover in context).
- “And teach them [the statutes of the law] to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
- “Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, That they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children” (Deuteronomy 4:10).
- “You shall teach them [God’s words] to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 11:19).
- “He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children” (Psalm 78:5-6).
- “The father shall make known Your truth to the children” (Isaiah 38:19).
- “Fathers . . . bring them up [children] in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
- 2 Timothy 1:5 speaks of the faith that was passed down to Timothy from his mother “Eunice” and his grandmother “Lois.” (See also 2 Timothy 3:15).
It is parents, and specifically fathers, who are given the primary responsibility to propagate the faith to their children. As Jonathan Edwards stated, “Family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote:
The more of parental teaching the better; ministers, and Sabbath-school teachers were never meant to be substitutes for mothers’ tears and fathers’ prayers . . . The first lesson for a child should be concerning his mother’s God . . . Around the fire-side fathers should repeat not only the Bible records, but the deeds of the martyrs and reformers, and moreover the dealings of the Lord with themselves both in providence and grace . . . Reader, if you have children, mind you do not fail in this duty . . . As far on as our brief life allows us to arrange, we must industriously provide for the godly nurture of our youth. The narratives, commands, and doctrines of the word of God are not worn out; they are calculated to exert influence as long as our race shall exist. The one object aimed at is transmission; the testimony is only given that it may be passed on to succeeding generations.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach then diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
When God established Israel as His chosen covenant people, He established responsibility for parents to nurture their children in the faith. This is a clear charge given by the Lord God to moms and dads.
The passage cited above is known in Jewish tradition as the Shema (vv. 4-5). It is named after the first word in verse 4; “Hear” which is the Hebrew word “shema.” The word is a command, which denotes the urgency of what is about to be said. Also, in the Hebrew mindset, “to hear” is tantamount “to obey” because to hear God and not to obey Him is to really not hear Him at all. Everything about the context reveals the weightiness of the command.
It is interesting to note that it is Moses who is God’s instrument to convey this command to His people. When God first came to Moses and called him to speak as His messenger Moses said, “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). God quickly reminded him who it was that was giving him the command, “who gave man his mouth” (Exodus 4:11). Many parents need to be reminded that it is God who gives this command for them to teach their children the faith. All of the excuses (“I’m not smart”, “I don’t speak well”, “I am shy”, “others are more qualified”) fade away in light of this reality. God reminds parents, “Who created you? Who gave you those children?” Moses, the one who could not speak, now proclaims the word of God, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Many parents who are not now speaking the Word of God to their children need to “hear” and obey.
With All Your Heart, Soul and Strength
Every parents’ supreme responsibility is to live out a passionate love for God in their lives. This is the platform that gives credibility to their instruction. Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”, is quoted by the Lord Jesus Christ three times in the New Testament (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). Notice the intensity of this command with the repeated use of the word “all.”
“All your heart” is not simply a reference to emotional love. The word translated “heart” carries the idea of “inner man”, “mind”, “will”, “soul”, and “understanding.” The clear implication is that it means “all of oneself.” This is genuine love that permeates all of one’s being. John Gill, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, writes: “[All your heart] includes . . . knowledge of God, esteem of Him, delight in Him, faith and trust in Him, fear and worship of Him, and obedience to Him.” “With all your heart, with all your soul [“essential being”], and with all your strength” are different ways of saying essentially the same thing- “with all of you!” Deuteronomy 6:6 again points to the weightiness of these commands: “These words I command you today shall be in your heart [inner man, mind, soul, understanding].”
Teach Them Diligently
Deuteronomy 6:7 makes it clear that the commands of the Lord, that are to be in the heart of the parent (Deuteronomy 6:6), should be passed on to the children. “You shall teach them diligently to your children.” The New International Version translates the phrase, “Impress them on your children.” The word translated “teach” is a word that means, “to pierce.” It carries the idea of being “sharp.” Parents are to teach (pierce) their children diligently (carefully and repeatedly) with the truth of God. Eugene Merrill suggests the image of an “engraver” chiseling with painstaking care into a solid slab.
Some parents take the approach that they are not going to push Christianity onto their children. Their plan is to simply live Christianity out before their children and then let them decide for themselves. First of all, this position is in direct conflict with Deuteronomy 6:7 and many other portions of Scripture. Second, the culture is not neutral and passive. Christian parents must not be passive in the task of passing on the faith and calling their children to hope in God. It is a dangerous position to be in a war and be the only one not fighting. Carefully, Christian parents teach to pierce their childrens hearts with the truth of God.
When should Christian parents do this teaching?
Deuteronomy 6:7b continues, “and shall talk of them when you sit in your house.” Sitting suggests inactivity. To put it in the common vernacular, this would be times when the family is simply “hanging out” together. The word translated “talk” in this verse is elsewhere translated speak, declare, command, promise, warn, and even sing. It calls for teaching about the commands, character, and nature of God to occur in those “sitting” times. Mealtime is a wonderful time for parents to talk to their children about the things of God. Parents should discuss the sermon and Sunday school lesson with their children every Sunday afternoon as they rest together as a family. These are wonderful times for transmitting the truths of the faith.
As a point of application and a plea for every Christian parent, set a daily (or at least routine) family worship time. This centers the family’s life around what is most important. Families probably will not talk about the things of God around the house if Bible study is not shown to be a priority by the leadership of the parents. Families should schedule a time to “sit” and talk about the things of God and respond to Him by worship. Parents, we must not dishonor God and forsake our children by failing to provide them vigorous instruction in the faith.
Deuteronomy 6:7b also admonishes parents to teach their children “when you walk by the way [the routine goings of life].” All of life should serve as teaching opportunities to talk to one’s children about the greatness of the great triune God of the Bible. Mountains can lead to conversations about the immensity of God. The stars in the night sky can cause parents to consider with their children the sovereignty of our creator God. A windy day can help parents direct their children’s thoughts to the Holy Spirit of God. Driving by a courthouse can lead to a discussion of justification. Parents must instill in their children a vision to see all of life from a God-centered perspective. Contemplate and speak of His perfections in all of life. Traveling, playing, and even yard work, can be transformed into wonderful teaching times for the parent who is leading a God-centered life.
In case the argument has not been sufficiently clear; Deuteronomy 6:7 concludes that this diligent teaching of one’s children should occur, “when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
Touching and Seeing, Coming and Going
“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand [all you touch] and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes [all you see]” (Deuteronomy 6:8). This verse has been taken literally by some Jewish people who actually wear small containers (phylacteries) containing the “Shema” on their hands and foreheads with straps of leather. While this verse is not meant to be taken in such a literal fashion, it nonetheless provides a graphic illustrative picture of what it does mean. The parent is to never be away from the truth of God. It is to be so much a part of the parent’s life that it should affect everything they touch and all they see. Deuteronomy 6:9 continues this line of thought: “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house [a reminder of your priority as you enter] and on your gates [a reminder of your priority as you return].” In all of life parents are charged with the responsibility to teach and pass on the faith to their children. When a child sees a parent hoping in God in this way, it provides a strong attraction to call him to hope in God.
This writer (pastor and father) is absolutely convinced that the starting point in obeying the command that has been set forth, to “diligently teach our children” the truth of the faith, is a set family worship time that centers around the Word of God and prayer. If this is established as a priority in the home, then perhaps all of family life can be transformed into a pursuit of God.
Family worship could include singing and catechizing as well as studying the Scripture and praying. Catechize is the anglicized form of the Greek word “katecheo” (see 1 Corinthians 14:19; Galatians 6:6; and Acts 18:25) which means, “to instruct.” The Webster’s New World Dictionary defines catechize as “to teach by the method of questions and answers.” This is a method of instruction that arises out of the biblical testimony itself and has stood the test of time throughout the history of the church as a profitable method of transmitting the faith to the next generation.
But far more important than the specific forms that are used in family worship is to actually commit ourselves to consistently doing family worship with an infectious passion. J.I. Packer said of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “He gave more of a sense of God to the text than any other man.” That is exactly what parents must desire to do for their children in family worship- give a sense of God to every text that is taken up. There should be a sense of importance and weightiness to the consideration of the things of God that provide a sense of awe and wonder. The parents’ teaching of the children must flow out of a passion for God in their own lives. Passion cannot be faked if the goal is to be reached. “That [by God’s grace] the generation to come might know them [the things of God]” and “that they may set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:6-7). As a believing parent, is that not what you want for your children?
What kind of message do you send to your children when you do not have family worship? What if you say you are too busy? Do you eat? Then you say that physical food is more important than spiritual food. Do you watch television? Then you declare that entertainment is a higher priority than worship. Do you do extra-circular activities? Then you are saying that recreation is more important than their spiritual well being. Do you sleep? Then you are telling them that comfort has a higher priority than godliness. These are dangerous messages to communicate to children, not only for their temporal well being but for the sake of their soul.
Heed the words of Dr. Tom Ascol:
The primary responsibility for teaching your children about God is yours, dear parent. It is not the Sunday school’s, the Church’s, nor the Pastor’s. God has entrusted this important work to you. If you do not invest your time and effort to teach your children about God, be assured someone else will. The television and the theater will teach them that God, if He exists at all, is an irrelevant, indulgent being that is little more than a nice kindly old man. If you do not teach your children truth and righteousness, be assured that there are a multitude of teachers in this world who would deceive them into thinking that “truth” and morality are relative ideas and can be shaped to fit anyone’s beliefs or standards.
There was a time when this matter of family worship was viewed with utmost seriousness by churches. The Directory for Family Worship of 1647 states:
The Assembly doth further require and appoint ministers and ruling elders to make diligent search and enquiry, in the congregations committed to their charge respectively, whether there be any among them any family or families which use to neglect this necessary duty; and if such family be found, the head of the family is to be first admonished privately to amend his fault; and, in case of his continuing therein, he is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the session; after which reproof, if he be found still to neglect Family-worship, let him be debarred from the Lord’s Supper, as being justly esteemed unworthy to communicate therein, till he amend.
To forsake family worship was such a serious offense that a father would be barred from the Lord’s Supper if he continued with such callous disregard for his family and his Lord. Oh, for a return to these kind of God-centered priorities today!
The Puritans viewed the family and the household as a “little church” (Perkins). Lewis Bayly taught, “what the preacher is in the pulpit, the same the Christian householder is in his house.” Parents, we must not shirk our God given responsibility to teach our children about God. In Matthew 22:21 in response to a question, Jesus says to his disciples, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” We must render our children to God. The only other alternative is to passively sit back and by inaction render them to the world. Caesar’s image was stamped on the coin; God’s image is stamped on our children. May believing parents, by God’s grace, awake from their slumber, and for the sake of the next generation and the glory of God, call their children to hope in God.