October 8, 2016

Truths That Transform: Teach Them to Your Children

“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” — Proverbs 22:6, NIV

Training children in the things of God has always been a high priority in God’s sight. As the Israelites prepared to cross the Jordan, God instructed them to teach His ways to their children. Moses recalls God’s words to him on Mount Horeb: “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10) and repeats this instruction again to the people (Deuteronomy 11:19). Why this instruction at this time? Why would it have been more important now than during the wilderness wandering years?

God knew that Israel was about to encounter cultures very different from their own. There would be unprecedented pressure to adopt the ways of the peoples around them, and to the extent that the children weren’t coached in the ways of God, they would be vulnerable to the temptation to adopt pagan practices. Parents preparing children to follow God was a matter not just of obeying God themselves and hoping that the children would imitate them; it was also a matter of intentionally teaching their children God’s laws and commands.

What happened in families with parents who followed God closely but neglected to train their children to do the same? The last two judges of Israel illustrate the results clearly. God appears to young Samuel, who served Eli the priest, and says this about the future of Eli and his family: “At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” (1 Samuel 3:12-14). In the very next chapter, God’s word is fulfilled, as Eli’s sons are killed in battle and Eli dies when he hears the news.

The lesson appears to have been lost on Samuel, who succeeded Eli as judge. When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as leaders in Israel; but they did not walk in God’s ways. They took bribes and did not rule justly; as a result, the elders of Israel came to Samuel and asked for him to appoint a king to lead them. Samuel described all the ways in which a king would abuse them; but apparently even this description was not as bad as what they were suffering at the hands of his sons, and they insisted on having a king (1 Samuel 8).

Scripture has many examples of leaders whose hearts were devoted to God, but who didn’t raise their children that way. David’s children were a collective disaster, committing incest and murder among themselves; one even rebelled and took the kingdom from David briefly. Time and again we see a God-fearing king in Judah followed by a son who undid all the good his father did.

Proverbs tells us that children who are trained in the ways of God will follow those ways as an adult. That’s not a guarantee; Proverbs is not a collection of iron-clad promises but of wise observations about the way life works. One thing is certain: children who are trained in righteousness have a much better chance of living in righteousness as adults than those who are not trained.

Stewardship is a key area of living for God, and an area in which our culture exerts a strong influence, much like the Canaanite culture did on the Israelites. To balance that pull, children need to be trained in God-honoring stewardship. Are you a parent? What are you doing to train your children in stewardship? Are you a stewardship leader? How are you equipping the parents in your congregation to train their children in stewardship?