‘God-fearing Children’ Deuteronomy 6:1-25 May 17, 1992
We have already encountered in Deuteronomy 4 verse 9 the great emphasis which is here placed on covenant succession from parents to children and on the nurture of our children in our faith and in the life to which they have been called as sons and daughters of the covenant. It is a doctrine which is taught comprehensively in the Bible, from the Old Testament to the New, and it is as well a doctrine which is profusely illustrated in the biblical history. Most of the significant characters of biblical history were sons and daughters of the covenant and were raised in the faith. Godly successions of faith and love litter the pages of Holy Scripture. Seth, Enoch, Noah; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph; Boaz, Jesse, David, Solomon; Lois, Eunice, Timothy; and so on. The godly Hebrew kings, the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11, John the Baptist, all were children once in homes where these commandments to parents which we have just now read were faithfully kept by fathers and mothers.
This morning, I do not want to spend our time considering the fact that God has promised to be our God and the God of our children, nor all of the collateral teaching which the Bible gives in elaboration and explanation of that promise. I want us rather to concentrate our attention on the specific commandments parents are here charged to obey with respect to their children. This is one of the great means by which God’s promise to give eternal life to our children comes to pass. The nurture they receive in their homes is the primary instrumentality by which his promise is fulfilled. But what does that nurture consist of? What are Christian parents here charged to do? What is meant by what the Lord said here through Moses?
I want to reduce the exhortation God here gives to parents to two specific obligations or duties, two ways by which they are to claim the promise God has made to them on behalf of their children. Much more can be said than this, of course. The Bible has a great deal of the most practical comment on the nurture of children in a Christian home. But I want to concentrate on two features which are prominent in this famous and important chapter.
The first is that Christian parents are to teach their children the true faith. This is the burden of both paragraphs which directly address the parents’ responsibility for the nurture of their children. In the first, in vv. 4-9 parents are charged in those memorable words to be always teaching the law and the commandments of God to their children, to instruct them in God’s will, and the life which he has summoned them to live before him.
And in the last paragraph of the chapter, vv. 20 to the end, the same point is made again but now with respect to the gospel, the mighty works of God by which he saved his people — the Exodus in this case, but, the Exodus as a picture of and as pointing to, the spiritual and eternal deliverance which the Lord Christ gained for us.
In each case the picture is not of a disinterested parent who sets his children to memorizing the catechism or who supposes his or her obligation satisfied by bringing the children to church. The picture is of a parent who is eager and determined to see his or her children enter into an ever deeper understanding of God’s word and appreciation of and gratitude for God’s great works toward us. Here is a parent, like the father in Proverbs 4-9, who with remarkable diligence and great affection teaches the truth of God to his children until he is sure that they understand it, that they know how it applies to the practical issues of life, until it is written indelibly in their hearts never to be removed, and until he sees them embracing that truth for themselves and gladly walking on their own two feet according to it.
Verse 7 says it plainly. The word of God is never to be far from the lips and very often to be popping into the conversation that fathers and mothers have with their kids. Whether it is having a catch in the yard or working at some chore in the house or beside the bed at night, another line, another stitch, another nail. Remember, son, what our heavenly Father says about that. Or, that is why, my girl, the Lord told us never to do that or say that or think that. Or, the solution to that dilemma, my children, is here in the Word of God, where the Lord tells us to trust in him.
In connection with the baptisms we witness so often in this church, parents promise to pray ‘with and for’ their children. And Bunyan has Christian say in the Pilgrim’s Progress that he prayed with and for his sons ‘with much affection.’ Well that is a grand formula and comes close to what the Lord is telling us here in Deuteronomy 6.
I trust that is is a promise our parents here are faithfully keeping before God and their children. Praying with and for; and especially ‘with.’ How many times there are in the life of a child when a parent ought to pray with him or with her. When a wrong has been done, for example. Someone has been hit, or something destroyed, or something unkind or impure said. To pray then with that child is a parent’s great opportunity and great duty. And then, after prayer, perhaps to talk a bit, perhaps about your own not yet forgotten childhood, your own parents, the lessons the Lord has taught you from his Word and by his providence as you grew up from childhood to adulthood. I say, parents who pray with their children like that, and speak with their children like that, and are careful to be sure that day after day, and month after month, and year after year, the Word of God is being written upon the hearts of their children so that they might come to believe it without hesitation, love it with a pure passion, and practice it in their lives — I say, those parents will not miss the great joy, greater than which I doubt there is for a Christian parent, of seeing their children walking in the truth and sharing in the same salvation and the same hope of life everlasting.
And how will you know if your nurture of your children is having that wonderful effect by the grace and working of God in their hearts? You will know when your children begin turning to you to ask the great questions of life, when your children clearly believe that no one has their spiritual interest more certainly at heart and no one is better able to give sound and true counsel than their own parents who have so long taught them and prayed with and for them with so much affection.
Here in Deuteronomy 6, the image is of a boy asking his Dad about the true meaning of the laws and commandments of the Lord. But it could just as well be any question. Esther Edwards, the daughter of Jonathan Edwards, records in her Journal on September 11, 1756, that she had spoken with her Dad the night before about spiritual things and about some doubts and difficulties she was struggling with in her own walk with the Lord. ‘I opened my difficulties and he as freely advised and directed the conversation as removed some distressing doubts that discouraged me much in my Christian warfare. He gave me some excellent directions to be observed in secret that tend to keep the soul near to God… 0 what a mercy that I have such a father — such a guide.’
Children speak this way whose parents treasure the souls of their sons and daughters and with much affection are always teaching them the way of the Lord.
The second aspect or feature of the spiritual nurture of children by their parents to which Moses draws attention here is that of setting high standards, the highest standards, for their life of faith. What are the commandments in v. 7 that parents are to impress upon the hearts of their children and that they are to talk about with the children when they are at home, when they are going to bed, when they are going someplace? They are the commandments, we read in v. 5, which are summed up in this: that they are to love God with absolutely everything they have. And then, again, in v. 24, the parent is to tell his or her child, that God’s grace and salvation being as great and wonderful and utterly undeserved as they are, nothing less is appropriate for us than that we should keep absolutely every one of God’s commands and, in the fear of God, to keep the whole of his law, holding nothing back.
Here as well, multitudes of Christian parents today miserably fail to live up to their calling. They set standards of such spiritual mediocrity and by their teaching and their own example cause their children to aspire to so little in the Christian life that it is no wonder that so many Christian young people, far from demonstrating the great privilege it is to grow up in a Christian home, are a disgrace to the church and to the gospel and to the Lord himself.
Let me put it to you parents directly. Are your children learning from your words and your example and especially from your expectations for them, that you care for nothing except this: that their lives be joyfully spent serving the Lord Christ? Do they know that you don’t give a fig for how much money they make or where they live if only they might do all they can and be all they ought to be for the sake of their Redeemer and yours?
I spent the first few days of this week with Bruce and Susan Young in their home in Nagoya, Japan. One evening we were talking about missionary work and the quality of candidates for it at the present time. Bruce made the remark that in his observation and in that of others as well, the chief obstacle in the way of many young
Christians considering a life of gospel work in a foreign country was their own Christian parents. Unbelievable! but true! Parents who didn’t want their children to be too far away, or to enjoy fewer creature comforts, or to have a job with so little prestige. The whole church of Jesus Christ should hang its head in shame for so-called Christians parents such as those who would not encourage their children to suffer the loss of all things if only they might serve the Lord and answer his summons.
When a friend wondered aloud how Susannah Wesley could stand her sons going off to do missionary work in colonial Georgia, she had the Christian grace and wisdom and love for Christ to say: ‘Had I 20 sons, I should rejoice that they were all so employed, though I should never see them again.’
Do you feel that way? Do your children know that you have such high expectations for them. Do they know, because you have told them with a convincing sincerity, that you want them to answer God’s call whole-heartedly, no matter what that call might be; that you want them to serve the Lord to the maximum extent of their ability, even if that meant living overseas, even if that meant that you might have to be separated from them, even if it were to mean that you must spend your last days in a nursing home. Do they know, because you have told them, that you have understood from the beginning that they were the Lord’s sons and daughters before they were yours, and that his claim upon their lives is rightfully far greater than yours. Are you, like godly Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, literally giving your children away to the Lord to use as he pleases? Do they see you making all manner of sacrifices and insisting on all manner of choices precisely because you want them to be educated and trained in such a way that God will be glorified to the greatest possible extent in their lives?
And not just with respect to their eventual callings in life should high standards be set. But with respect to everything having to do with their life of faith. Are you seeing to it that your children are already beginning to be faithful and diligent in their daily communion with the Lord in the Word and in prayer? Are you teaching them how and working that discipline in them? Are you helping them to learn how to share their faith with others, to grow comfortable in speaking of Christ to others? Are you setting high standards for their Christian conduct in their treatment of their parents, of their siblings, of their friends? Are you holding them to a high standard of love for neighbor, of the practice of forgiveness and humility and the like? And are you setting a high standard for them for their worship here in church, helping them but expecting them to participate in the church’s worship with an ever greater understanding, interest, and engagement of the heart?
I tell you, beloved congregation, if we raise our children this way, with such comprehensive and affectionate teaching and by setting such high standards for them to reach, the children of this church, even just those who remain here in Tacoma when they are adults — for the Lord will certainly take some of them elsewhere — even those children, will make this church twice or three times the church she is today for worship, for good works, for witness, and for fellowship. That is a happy prospect!
We think of Japanese culture as very strong on family solidarity, and in some ways it is. But that made it only the more dismaying to hear several of our ministers working there say that one of the great problems with the Japanese church today — as with the American church — is that it is so lackadaisical with its children. There is so little real nurture going on; so many parents leaving the matter of spiritual commitment for the children to sort out for themselves. No wonder the Japanese church is so desperate for leadership today. No wonder there is but one solitary male student from our Presbyterian church now studying for the ministry. She has taken her leaders to be and handed them over the world! She has wasted the most precious and expensive resource God has given her…her own children.
Well, not you and not I, brothers and sisters. If we must commit any sin, may it never be this one; and ifwe are to be faithful to the Lord at any point, may it be here! And if there is any single divine blessing that it will be our pleasure to experience in this world, may it not be good health, or a long life, or financial prosperity. May it rather be the joy of seeing our children walking in the truth, and the still greater joy of seeing them surpass us in Christian faith, hope, and love. And believe this: no one can outgive the Lord God, even when Christian parents give him their children.
Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious,
Give of they wealth to speed them on their way.
Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious,
And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.