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.