Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at what the Bible has to say about growing Godly families. We’ve seen in Ephesians 5 and 6 how our being Christians changes the way we relate to each other. Husbands and wives are called to submit to each other. Children are expected to obey and honour the parents. And parents are to instruct them in the ways of the Lord.
This week, I want to zero in a little bit on the role of parents in growing godly children. Because I believe that growing God-fearing children is one of the major tasks that God gives parents. I think it falls under Jesus’ commission to us at the end of Matthew. He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that he’s commanded us. Surely our own children need the same treatment? Sharing Jesus with others is the whole point of why we’re here. We’re living in the time before Jesus comes back. The time that he’s given us to pass out the invitations to eternity. The time to invite others to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And the children of Christian parents need that invitation just as much as non-Christians. God wants to see your children fear him and love him. He wants to see your kids chasing after Jesus.
During the week, I stumbled across a quote in one of friends’ blogs. It’s by Stephen Covey from his book The 7 Habits of Highly effective families. He says, and I quote, “If we do not teach our children, society will. And they – and we – will live with the results.” We need to teach our kids the ways of God. But how do we do we go about making disciples of our children? How do we teach them to obey everything that God has commanded us? I think Moses has a few ideas for us in today’s passage.
In Deuteronomy 6 Moses begins to summarise for us what it means to put God first in our lives. He’s teaching the Israelites God’s instructions so that – verse 2 – they and their children and their children after them may fear the Lord by keeping his commands. Moses is repeating God’s instructions to the people. And he expects those who hear them to pass them on. Their children and their children after them are to hear the same message.
When God speaks, what he says is forever. Jesus himself said in Matthew 24:35 that though heaven and earth will pass away, his words will never pass away. What God has said in the past is just as important today as it was when he first said it. What Jesus commanded and taught 2000 years ago is just as important today is it was back then. And it’ll be just as important when our great-great grandkids have grandchildren of their own. And God’s Word – his instruction – is important because it is life giving. It’s by God’s Word that we can saved. By trusting in Jesus that we can be saved. Even for Moses and the Israelites in Deuteronomy, before Jesus, fearing the Lord, loving the Lord, obeying God meant long life – verse 2.
If we are to grow godly families, we need to introduce our families to God. More than that, we need to paint a bigger picture for our families. We need to realise that our individual families are a part of God’s family. Because a Christian family is always part of a bigger picture. A bigger family.
Some of you might know that I have a history in Mathematics. A while ago there was a fascinating programme on TV about how fractals were discovered. There’s a picture of a Mandlebrot fractal on the front of today’s bulletin. Now the thing about fractals is that when you zoom in on them, they look exactly the same as when you zoom out. They detail mirrors the larger picture.
I’d like to suggest that in the same way our families – the detail – is like the church family – the big picture. What it means to be a godly family mirrors what it means to be God’s people, the church, his family. We need to recognise that. God is our Father. And as our Father, he teaches us and instructs us to be the sort of family that he wants us to be. That’s what Moses is doing in Deuteronomy: passing on Dad’s instruction. So that it will take root in our families. So that one can look at a godly family and see what it means to be a member of God’s family.
That’s the point of growing godly families. Not to have our kids become like ourselves – but to have our kids grow up to be like Jesus. To have them become disciples – family members in the church. That is their heritage.
Think of a royal family. By right of birth, they rule over the nation. Because their ancestors were kings and queens, they can become king or queen. But any Christian family has a far greater heritage. Because of what Jesus has done – because of our adoption into God’s family – we will be like Jesus. We will one day rule with him. Our heritage, our inheritance, are the promises of God. The Word of God. Ancient words ever true.
So Dad and Mum, if you want to grow a godly family; if you want to make disciples of your children – and God calls you to that – then the first step is to look at what it means to belong to God. Is to look at what God calls his church – his people – to be.
And the first bit of Deuteronomy makes that crystal clear, doesn’t it? God calls his church to be a people who love him so much. We are called to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength. With everything that we are. That’s the most important command in the whole Bible: Love the Lord your God. Love him because of who he is – the one and only God. Love him because of what he has done – he’s saved us and given us new life. Love him because he is God for us. Love him because we are a part of his family. Love him so much that obeying him is a thing of the heart Like John in 1 John 5:3 – This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
And you know, if we love the Lord with every atom of our being, our kids will pick up on that. They’ll see the way you act. They’ll learn from your example what it looks like to obey God. If you really love God with everything you have, your kids will notice. And just maybe they’ll want to love God too.
As a single bloke, there are times when I look at some people who are deeply in love with each other, and I feel a bit jealous. Oh – may your kids look at your love for God – and hear of his love for you – and want it for themselves. Because Godly familes are families full of God’s love.
And look at verse 7. Moses tells the Israelites – and us – to impress God’s commandments on our children. To talk about them wherever and whenever we can. That word “impress” in the Hebrew literally means “to repeat.” God would have parents constantly speaking about who he is and what it means to follow him. Which again mirrors the larger family. Remember, a few weeks ago when we looked at the end of Malachi, God saw a group of godly people – and they stood out because they were talking about God. They were discussing God’s word. That’s what God’s family does – meditate on God’s word.
So godly families should do the same. And that involves more than just formally teaching your kids the Bible. There’s a place for that – and I’m all in favour of it. But what Moses is describing is a constant teaching of our kids about God. Constantly teaching them about what Jesus has done for us. Taking every opportunity as it comes up to bring in a Bible truth. To explain God’s view on things.
Watching TV, listening to the radio, reading a book. There are so many opportunities in every day to throw in a bit of Bible teaching. Ask your kid what Jesus would think about people swearing on the TV. Tell them what the Bible has to say about honouring parents or whatever it is that comes up. Small doses of Christian instruction as part of everyday life. Because God’s word – Jesus’ commandments – are all about real life. So use your kids’ experiences to teach them about Jesus. Because God makes disciples of us even while we are in this world.
Because your children need to be ready to stand before Jesus when he comes back. And he’s coming back soon. They need to be taught what it means to fear the Lord. They need to know what it means in practice. At home, at school, going for a walk down the road.
The picture Moses paints is of a family where God is constantly on the agenda. Growing godly families is a full-time commitment. It’s something that will occupy every waking moment. So that the last thought your kids have before going to sleep is about God. And the first thought they have in the morning is about God. Because that’s what God would have of each of us.
And the side effect of teaching your kids in this way is that it’ll make you more aware of God in your own life. As you disciple your children, I believe God will be discipling you. If parents are going to bring up godly children, they themselves need to be striving for godliness. God’s given us his Spirit to help us become more and more like Jesus. His Spirit is at work in our hearts – showing us how God would have us life. And really, this style of parenting is just sharing your own experience of growing to be like Jesus with your kids.
The other way we can teach our kids to be disciples is in setting up some family traditions and rituals. Says Moses in verses 8 and 9, tie God’s commandments as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. And write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The Israelites took those 2 verses and developed the traditions of phylacteries and mezuza. Phylactaries were little pouches containing bit from the Old Testament. And a Mezuza was a little box which also had bits of the Old Testament in it which you could attach to your doorpost. The tradition was that when you went through the door, you’d touch the mezuza to remind you to take God’s word with you wherever you went.
And yes, there is a danger that rituals can become empty and meaningless. And historically us Baptists have shied away from them for exactly that reason. But they have their place. I’m starting to like them a lot more these days. One of the reasons why I kind of insist on having the cross out each week is because just looking at it reminds us of why we’re here. Symbols and traditions and rituals can be an incredibly effective teaching tool.
But they’re only effective when they are linked to remembering God’s word. Any ritual that doesn’t lead us to remember what God has done is pointless and worthless and empty. In Matthew 23:5 Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the pharisees and teachers of the law – wearing extra large phlyacteries and living for their own glory – not for God’s. Phylacteries – the writing on the head and hands of God’s word was meant to keep your focus on God. In the same way, we can have family rituals that remind us of God.
As I grew up – like a lot of you – one of our rituals was saying grace before dinner. I know that’s not so unusual. But the reason we pray before eating is not because God insists on it. No. We pray before meals as a way of remembering God’s goodness. As a family, thanking God for his provision. That’s a ritual which brings us back to what God has done for us.
God put in place a whole bevy of rituals and traditions to help his people remember him. The passover – to remind Israel of the exodus out of Egypt. Circumcision – to remind Israel that they belonged to God. Communion – to remind us of Jesus until he returns. And the interesting for me is that these natio wide rituals were pretty much a family affair. The whole of Israel celebrated the passover – but they did it in their families. Again – as Christian families, we form part of the bigger family of Christ.
And the beautiful thing about ritual is that it’s a little bit mysterious. It’s not blindly obvious. Kind of like the parables Jesus used. They make you think, and ask questions. And kids ask questions. Why do we go to church every week? Why do we pray before we eat – my friend’s family doesn’t? Why do we read the Bible? Why did Jesus die? Who is Jesus? Why does our family do things differently to other families? Why do you keep speaking about Jesus? Why do you love him so much? Verse 20: What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?
And the answer? Why is our family like this? Because we’re part of Jesus’ family. Says Moses in verses 21ff, remind your kids about how God has saved his family for himself. In Deuteronomy they looked back to the Exodus. We look back to the cross.
Growing godly families. At the end of the day it’s about looking like God’s family. It’s about bringing God’s word to bear in our homes. It’s about making disciples of your children. It’s about teaching them what Jesus has commanded. It’s about showing them that they are part of a bigger family. That’s the role of a parent – to point your kids to Christ.