How do you teach your child to live joyfully for God? There seem to be so few opportunities to express love toward God for our children, especially when they are young. And yet parents have the responsibility to form a shape of something abstract like loving God for them. How? There is a very simple way: the fifth commandment.
When the Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother…” it is part of God’s holiness code for children. No matter what age our children might be, they can express their love for God by obeying this commandment. Let me be clear: honoring parents is not the end game for the Christian child. The goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God’s call for them to honor mom and dad gives them an opportunity to do so, and “practice makes perfect” as they say (but not in the “perfectionism” sense). As Christian parents you have been given the privilege of leading them through this process. So how should Christian parents teach their children to glorify God in honoring the fifth commandment? Below are some suggestions:
- Expect obedience from your children. Colossians 3:20 commands children to obey their parents in everything. To obey is to honor their parents. To honor their parents is to glorify God. Do not teach your children to despise God’s commandment by allowing them to disobey you. Parents, when you call your little darling to come to you and they run the other way, that’s not cute. It’s sin. Instead lead them in honoring God even at an early age by requiring obedience.
- Give your children the chance to honor you in service. Parents are not exclusively in the law enforcement business, although you may sometimes feel that way. Try to find ways your children can honor you positively. Dads, give your child the joy of bringing mom her toast in the morning. Help your teens organize that special surprise for her. Certainly your children are to honor through obedience, but they can also honor in service.
- Teach your children to honor the adults in their lives. This lesson is easy to teach in the context of church. For your children, all the adults at church are old. Have them carry things, open doors, or give a friendly greeting to some of the senior saints at church. Have them speak respectfully to adults and use titles of respect for them. Grown-ups and children are not peers, or buddies. By teaching your children to act this way you are giving them opportunities to put God’s commandments into practice.
Of course, external obedience or service without love for God is not glorifying him. If only parenting were that easy. Add to that your children’s natural propensity to disguise their rebellion through deception and you have a recipe for much prayer. But while you pray, you also teach, showing your children what it means to honor their parents in the hopes of teaching them how they might glorify God.
I am guessing many first-time parents get their highlighters out when their little angel reaches 1 year old and furiously begin underlining Exodus 20:12: “Honor your father and your mother…” It becomes their “life verse.” This enthusiasm usually springs from a recognition of the universal defiance streak that is in all our children. However, the fifth commandment actually has implications for the parent as well.
More than just dealing with children, the fifth commandment also covers our obligation toward our children. “The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A 64). The 17th century divines teach us that children have duties toward parents, but parents have duties to their children as well.
One of the places our biblical duties are summarized is in Colossians 3:21. There God commands us not to provoke our children lest they become discouraged. To clarify, this passages does not teach our children’s happiness as the gauge for successful, biblical parenting. For example, our children may become discouraged when we prohibit them from kicking their siblings in the shins. They may be frustrated when we restrict their forms of entertainment. Discouragement alone does not invalidate our instruction, but discouragement flowing from provocation does. So how do we discourage our children?
- By failing to teach them from God’s word. Our convictions are not as stable as we might think. Consider how much your views have changed in the last ten years. When we make our thoughts the foundation for instruction, children will become discouraged because they are aiming for a moving target. We should instruct our children in God’s unchangeable commandments and in principles we derive from them.
- By treating them as if they were the center of the universe. When our children are young we form how they view the world. If we teach them to consider themselves the center, we inadvertently train them to make their happiness their primary goal. However, Scripture tells us that “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:38). The principle of self-denial is central to the Scriptures, not self-satisfaction. We will discourage them if they are used to considering self first, rather than Christ.
- By failing to love them as we have been loved by Christ. Parental instruction must flow from a heart of love. If we constantly treat our children as if they are an inconvenience, whatever may have been helpful in our instruction will surely be lost. View your parental responsibilities along the lines of Deut. 6:6-7: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you like dow, and when you rise.”
When I moved to Canada in 1985, all the shopping centers were still closed on Sunday. I don’t think anyone had the faintest idea why, but they were closed nonetheless. Now, in the church, we have the same situation. We commend Chick Fill-A for being closed on Sunday, but at the same time we’re a bit disappointed because now we have to spend more by going to Appleby’s for our Sunday lunch. We have lost our understanding of the significance of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. You, parents, are the ones who must be about making Sunday the Lord’s Day again.
The point of this post is not to address the issue of the theology of the Sabbath. Other people have done a very good job at it. Iain Campbell, Walter Chantry, Ryan McGraw, Joseph Pipa and others have made a thorough biblical case for the continuing application of the 4th commandment for the Christian. What I want to do is think through the “why” and “how” of teaching our children about the Christian Sabbath.
First, “Why?” If I was to boil down the significance of the Lord’s Day to one idea it is this: God has given us Sunday to continually re-orient us in the use of our time. Christian worship can easily become one of our weekly activities. We work, watch football, do homework, visit friends, and we also manage to fit in church. God knows the weakness of our frame and gives us one day in seven where everything stops. We have to get everything else in our week done in six days because we know that on the seventh, we don’t work, neither do we cause anyone else to work. It is God’s tithe on our time: all the time we have belongs to God and we should use it to glorify him. It is a gift from God reminding us we are blessed when our hope is in him (Ps. 146:5).
Second, “How?” There are two ways we mock the Lord’s Day. First, by not giving it any thought, and second by turning it into a checklist. The way to avoid these extremes is by setting some foundational truths before our children about the Lord’s Day:
- God made the Sabbath as part of his creation, before sin even entered the world (Gen. 2:3). That means we are all to obey this commandment
- On Sunday, we are not to work, neither should we cause others to work. If we need to make changes in our families to conform to this commandment, make sure we can show our children they are required by God, not you.
- Obedience to the Sabbath demonstrates we trust God will take care of us. We are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all other things will be given to us.
- There are exceptions to the Sabbath commandment to rest in the works of necessity and mercy.
Can you imagine letting fly a string of expletives and blasphemy in front of your children? I hope not. Yet often we do take God’s name in vain in front of our children.
Too often we think God’s commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” deals only with spoken blasphemy. However, Ezekiel shows us a broader application. God charges the prophet to confront Israel with their disobedience: idolatry, Sabbath breaking, and a disregarded of God’s law. God views these transgressions as follows: “Thus says the Lord GOD: In this also your fathers blasphemed me, by dealing treacherously with me.” (Ezekiel 20:27, ESV). It is in what they do that they take God’s name in vain. Likewise 1 Timothy 6:1 urges Christians who are enslaved to honor their masters so God’s name would not be “reviled.”
So how can our children’s actions take God’s name in vain? By misrepresenting, or dishonoring, Christ in thought, word, and deed. We are to teach and lead our children in a joyful, thankful, humble response to God’s redeeming work. Since we are called to imitate Christ (Eph. 5:1-2), certain behaviors become unacceptable in Christian families. Below we find only three that will have to serve as a sample set.
- Unkind Words. Our children will use unkind words. But do we correct them when they do so? Paul commands us to put on kindness as part of the process of sanctification (Col. 3:12). When a man identifies himself with Christ, he is to be kind. How often is God’s name maligned in Christian homes through the use of unkind speech?
- Selfishness. How long did you have to wait before your little angel uttered the word “Mine!” with fire in his eyes? We may chuckle at their intensity, but in fact our little ones are behaving selfishly. However, God is not selfish. He is gracious, kind, and provides us with all we need both for body (1 Tim 6:17-18) and soul. Teach your children to be generous, and willing to share.
- Raising Voice in Anger. In Colossians 3:8, we find wrath and anger among the sins to be put to death. Yet we often express these emotions in the tone of our voice. We address this sin by seeking forgiveness, not by excusing it. As we turn in repentance, through the Holy Spirit’s power, we must seek after contentment and peace, also applying God’s standards of behavior to our children.
As a result of our being redeemed and serving as ambassadors of Christ, to live contrary to his instruction and attributes is to take his name in vain. We and our children will make sinful choices in our lives and by doing so will blaspheme him. However, we must learn to recognize these sins so we can lead our families in repentance and give full honor and glory to the God who made us, redeemed us, and sustains us.
When we think of idolatry, what do we picture? Perhaps we picture a large golden statue, like what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were commanded to worship. Certainly the Babylonians were engaging in idolatry. However, idolatry requires no statues, candles, shrines or chants. It exists in all of us.
Idolatry is something of the heart. It is an practice that identifies where our trust truly lies. Richard Baxter in his work The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, describes it this way: “It is gross idolatry to make any creature, or means, our rest.” In a sense, all our sin is idolatry. Every time we sin we find our rest in our own preferences rather than in a joyful, loving and thankful obedience to our Savior.
The 2nd commandment calls us back to that joyful obedience. We are quick to forget the right worship of the Lord, but we can also allow our children to form idolatrous habits, if we are not careful. We can actually encourage these habits by:
- Not addressing disobedience. I have seen each of my 10 children move from the newborn to the toddler stage. I have observed a common trait in all of them regardless of their personality and gender: never once did I have to teach them to disobey my instructions. At some point their little sin natures said to themselves, “I don’t think I would like to obey daddy.” Cute as the expression of their wills may be in small children, if we do not address their disobedience, we are giving them permission to find their rest in their own preferences.
- Allowing them to run their own day. When we allow our children to use their time almost exclusively in the pursuit of their own interests, we teach our children the day is theirs. Lack of chores, exclusively choosing their own activities, or a full slate of recreational activities all foster this attitude. We should teach our children to think of others through involvement in family hospitality, chores, or by encouraging them to play with a younger sibling. Help your child see their rest is not in their own preferences but in showing God’s love to others through service.
- Sports/Recreation. Our children may be gifted in soccer, baseball, ballet or some other sport. When our child’s team is scheduled to play on Sunday morning do we endorse or repudiate idolatry? When their performance falls on the Lord’s Day what is more important to us: the performance or the corporate worship of God’s people? In granting permission to attend the Sunday performance we have tacitly agreed that sports and recreation supersedes God’s call on our lives. We have made our success our rest, rather than the Lord.
This is not a complete list, to be sure. It is simply meant to help us get started in thinking through the different ways we can, in fact, encourage our children to make a carved image in their own hearts.
A big challenge Christians have is making God the primary object of their affections and the only God they worship. This struggle has transcended time. Adam and Eve surrendered to this temptation when they fell and mankind has doing the same ever since every time they sin. Therefore, it seems to me teaching children to honor the 1st commandment should be one of those “first order” issues.
Two things must be true for us to be able to truly worship God: 1. we must know and acknowledge God as the only true God; 2. we must worship him accordingly (Westminster Shorter Catechism, #46). In other words, we must believe the right thing about God and do the right thing as a result. I’m assuming the reader believes God to be the only true God. The question I’m trying to answer is, “How do I teach my kids about that?” Three thoughts about that:
- Private Study. To be able to show your children your love of God, you must actually love God. Seems trite, I suppose, but it is foundationally true. When you know God as the true God, you know about his holiness and your sinfulness, his Lordship and your rebellion. You also know he takes these kinds of people and makes them his own. A proper understanding of his gift makes one unable to be satisfied with a mumbled prayer and lifeless reading of Psalm 117. When you truly know God, you will love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. You will pray. You will read. You will know and acknowledge him as the only true God.
- Family Study. Your love for God will inevitably spill over into relationships. You will want to teach your children from God’s word. To maximize effectiveness, make family devotions a routine. Pick the same time every day and practice family worship then. Help your children understand the Bible in two broad categories: 1. what they need to know about God; 2. what they need to do to worship him. Then you can tell them, “Love God and do not steal,” or “Love God and be kind to your sister.” Worship of God is expressed in action. Give your children the joy of being able to worship God from an early age.
- Corporate Worship. It is easy to neglect corporate worship. However there is no better way to teach your children that God is the one true God to be worshiped. Tell your kids: “We’re going to worship the Lord now.” Tell them how you love to worship the Lord. Don’t allow them to speak negatively about the worship of the God who bought you at the cost of the life of his Beloved Son.
Worship of the true God forms the foundation of all that we will do in our homes and with our own lives. Is the Lord your God? Then worship him by yourself, in your family and in your church.
When it comes to talking about what we should do in parenting there are many voices. This truth is evident from the amount of material that has been produced to address parenting questions. amazon.com has 55,614 books on parenting. With this kind of information we should have no more questions. Of course this isn’t the case.
Parenting is never quite so neat as in a book (or blog post). Sin so often interferes with the serene thoughts of an author sitting in his study. However, that does not mean there is no plan. In fact, although I hate to be simplistic (not really), Amazon could list only 1 book in their section on parenting: the Bible. The Bible is sufficient to address every area of our lives. If an explicit command is not given there are sound biblical principles that we can apply. Below are 10 biblical ideas we can apply in parenting that should help our families honor the Lord.
- You shall have no other God’s before me. The only way a person has peace is through Christ’s salvation. Do not allow your child’s sports, hobbies, or work take priority over the worship of God and thereby take away their peace.
- You shall not make for yourself a carved image. Idolatry is whatever we invent to replace God’s directions for serving him. Set his word before your children and give them the comfort of following the unchanging God.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Your family is called by God’s name. Make sure you are a faithful witness to each other and the watching eyes of others.
- Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Teach your children that God directs their time. God is not one of many activities to fit in a day, but he gives us our day.
- Honor your father and your mother. Your children are not your buddies. They are your children to be trained of up for God’s glory. Lead them and do not allow them to defy you.
- You shall not murder. Teach your children to rule their emotions, instead of being ruled by them.
- You shall not commit adultery. Proper use of entertainment, the Internet, and clothing are important. Train your children to love truth, honor and purity (Philippians 4:8).
- You shall not steal. Teach your children to respect the property of others whether it be material or immaterial.
- You shall not bear false witness. Love does not “rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Say no to tattling, lying and deception.
- You shall not covet. Do not allow your children to envy the success of others, but teach them to be content with what God has given them.
The Ten Commandments, of course. Each will require its own thoughts, but my contention is that Christians have hidden behind “legalism” and avoided God’s good moral law so long that we do not even recognize its use anymore. Apply his law in your home and lead your children in expressing love for God (1 John 5:3).
Everyone in the world has one foundational relationship: the relationship with his parents. Only Adam and Eve did not have parents. The rest of us, for better or worse, have them. I want to consider this relationship from the perspective of the parents today.
The parental perspective of this relationship will be different from the child’s based on the role God has designed for them. Our function in any relationship is always governed by our role. For example, when you work for someone you understand your boss sets the rules and you follow. In parenting we are simply trying to define the role of the parent in the parent-child relationship.
One of the key passages in understanding the parental role can be found in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. In this passage we see parenting is not the passing on of intellectual concepts, but rather training our children in knowing how to live in a way that honors God. This idea is also at the heart of Paul’s instruction to parents in Ephesians 6:4: bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Another way to say is that the instruction found in the commandments of the Bible is what disciples our children. Our job is to pass them on.
The question I want to ask is, “What are some of the ways we fail in our biblical role as parents?”
- By not praying for our children. If we think we will, by our best efforts, be able to parent our children, we are greatly mistaken. Instead we are dependent entirely on God and should acknowledge that by prayer.
- By not doing ourselves what we would require of our children. “Do as I say and not as I do.” is never a good parenting philosophy. Your actions place a value on your instruction.
- By being inconsistent in our requirements. If we parent based on our mood, we will be inconsistent. We require respect toward mom & dad, but not toward siblings. There must be an objective standard for parent and child: the Bible.
- By not insisting that our children follow our leadership. Do not let your children turn biblical roles in the parent-child relationship upside down by making them autonomous before they are ready. Insist they follow you. They may be cute, you may have to teach them (many times), and you may have to stop what you are doing to address and/or correct them, but lead them, do not follow them.
- By not planning ahead in our parenting. I used to think parenting was just a day-to-day reaction to circumstances. 21 years, and 10 children later, I can tell you: I’ve never been more wrong. Your job is to train your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It needs a plan.
One time my wife and I gave our oldest daughter a doll house. She had waited for what must have seemed like an eternity. Finally on her third birthday we gave her the doll house as a gift. When she took off her blindfold and saw the gift set up on the table for her all she could do is jump for joy, shout “thank yous”, and hug and kiss her mom and me. We could tell it was a precious gift for her.
Transitioning now to the spiritual realm, our response is not often the same when it comes to the gift of eternal life. We know from the Bible the God is the maker of all things. He made all things visible, invisible, spiritual, or material. Everything we see around us is obligated to him. The bad news is that we also know from the Bible that we sin against God every day. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are not faithful to him, neither can they be because of our sinful nature. This condition places us in a position of great guilt before him. Only when we realize the truth both of who God is and who we are will we realize the greatness of his gift to us. If we do not think much of the greatness of God, we will not realize his gracious condescension. If we are not aware of the depth of our sin, we will not grasp our desperate need of salvation. Without this understanding the Bible will be just another fantastical fairy-tale, or some opium for the masses.
However, the Bible is good news for those who receive God’s promises by faith. In fact, the news is so good, our response should be 10,000 times that of my daughter when she received her doll-house. If someone gave you one million dollars, you would do more than buy a canned Hallmark card and no one would have to tell you to do so. Yet we Christians often respond with apathy and indifference toward the things of God. It seems we have missed the preciousness of God’s gift to us.
Spend some time in Genesis 1-3, meditate on the significance of what is recorded there and go out and live with joyful enthusiasm for the God who made you, redeemed you and sustains you.
Every time I drive from Augusta to Waynesboro I pass a sign. In big, bold letters it proclaims: “God is not angry with you, no matter what.” That may sound fantastic, but it is not biblical. After God made Adam he commanded him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen. 2:16-17, ESV). Of course, we know Adam & Eve did eat of this forbidden fruit. Their rebellion against God immediately changed them.
The next time we see Adam & Eve they are hiding in the garden because they hear God approaching. They know their relationship with God has been severed. They know they are deserving of God’s judgment and it won’t be pretty. Of course, judgment is not a popular idea in our day. However unpopularity has never negated truth. The Bible tells us Adam sinned and we all sinned in him (Rom. 5:12). That means God’s wrath rests on us because of our ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). So it seems we are in a heap of trouble.
A healthy understanding of God’s wrath against our sin teaches us about our condition as people. We are in desperate need of someone to save us. However, if we do not reflect on God’s wrath against sin, why would we want to change anything? Let me illustrate. Recently, I began hearing a rattling sound from the front left side of my car. I just ignored it because the workings of the automobile are a mystery to me. However, I gave one of my fellow elders a ride one day and he pointed out that I had a broken strut. He told me I needed to get it fixed. Without him showing me the condition of my car, I would have happily put up with a little bit of road noise. The same is true when it comes to our need for salvation. God tells us of our sin and guilt so we would know we are in need of salvation. He tells us so we might flee to the cross of Christ.
God hates sin. He is wrathful toward it. We would do well not to minimize the Bible’s teaching on this subject but use it make us see we need to turn us to Christ or face God’s judgment.