5. Precept upon Precept
Our goal as Christian parents is to produce spiritually mature adults, ready to serve the Lord in any way he directs. We work toward that goal by loving our children as God loves us and by setting a Christ-like example for them to follow. But even then we’ve only begun. The next step is urgent, and may best be introduced by these instructions to Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17, NIV).
That last statement describes the very person we want to produce--a man of God thoroughly equipped for every good work. How can a child be brought to that place? According to this passage, it is by building the Word of God into his life from his very earliest days. If we want our children to turn out as God wants them to be, we must teach them the Scriptures. Our heavenly Father encourages his children to feed on his Word (1 Pet. 2:2). And human parents who know him will do the same for their children.
We have decried the removal of the Bible from our public schools, but God never gave the public school system the responsibility of instilling his Word into the hearts and lives of our children. He committed it to us, their parents. That principle was established very early in God’s dealings with his ancient people Israel and has never been superseded. “O Israel, listen: Jehovah is our God, Jehovah alone. You must love him with all your heart, soul, and might. And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today. You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning” (Deut. 6:4-7, TLB).
Unfortunately, the Bible is a closed book from one Sunday to the next in many Christian homes. Parents have evidently decided to let the Sunday school and church handle the job of making the Scriptures a vital part of their children’s lives. But the Sunday school and church only have the children for two or three hours out of the 168 in a week. Even if our teachers were the most skilled people on earth at relating the principles of God’s Word to the lives of our children, that amount of time is negligible compared to the time other influences mold their lives. If we want our children to be spiritually mature and fully equipped to serve Jesus Christ, we will need to supplement that scant diet of Bible teaching with some consistent instruction in the home. While some may avoid this responsibility by insisting we are not under law, the New Testament exhortation to fathers to raise their children in the instruction of the Lord would indicate that the principle has never been outdated (Eph. 6:4).
It seems as though parents are concerned about almost everything except this most important element of their children’s training. They spend a great deal of money to clothe them in style; after all, they don’t want them to look different from their friends. They try to provide the very best of food and shelter, and many of us have more of both than we really need. No cost is too great to correct any physical handicaps--crooked teeth, greasy skin, or pigeon toes. They take great pains to see that their secular education is the very best available. But they neglect the one thing that can make their children men and women of God, that is, an experiential knowledge of his inspired Word. It is no surprise that many Christian young people lack an interest in spiritual matters and lack the strength to resist the great temptations of our times. It is understandable that so few enter the Lord’s work and some turn their backs on him completely.
Why are we so careless in this matter? A clue may be found right here in this central Old Testament passage. “And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today” (Deut. 6:6). The Word must occupy a prominent place in our own hearts and minds before we can impart it to our children. We cannot teach them what we do not possess ourselves, what we have not made a part of our own experience. We cannot show them how the Word relates to their problems, their decisions, their motives, their goals, and their behavior if we have never learned to relate it to our own. Setting an example before our children begins right here with our relationship to the Lord and his Word.
How relevant is Jesus Christ to your daily life? How faithful are you in applying the principles of his Word to everyday living? We must get into the Word for ourselves, let it saturate our minds and regulate our lifestyle. Then alone will we be qualified to move on to the next verse and teach it to our children. The question is, “Are you ready to move on?” Decide to make the Bible the dominant guiding force in your life. Ask God to give you the kind of hunger for his Word that draws you away from less important things which make no worthwhile contribution to your life. Then you will be ready to make that Word a vital part of your child’s life.
Where then do we begin? One small but helpful part of implanting the Word involves setting time aside for the family to gather together and talk about its living truths. We sometimes call it family worship. This may be family worship here in Deuteronomy 6:7: “You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home . . .” (TLB). We can picture the Jewish family seated together at home, sharing the great doctrines which God had revealed to them through Moses, rehearsing God’s great faithfulness to them through the years and reminding each other of their responsibilities to him.
“Oh, but we don’t have time for that at our house.” One survey exposed the distressing fact that less than fifteen percent of our evangelical Christian homes have family worship with any degree of regularity. Maybe you are part of the eighty-five percent who neglect it and your excuse has been lack of time. That seems to be the most popular one. But most of us have time to do the things we want to do. What we need to do is move family worship up on our priority list. Maybe your excuse has been the difficulty of getting every member of the family together at the same time and in the same place. In some houses, everyone leaves at a different hour in the morning, so each one grabs his breakfast on the run. Everyone is still running in opposite directions after dinner in the evening. Johnny has Little League, Betty has band, Dad has a board meeting, and Mother goes to the missionary circle. There just isn’t any time when everybody can get together at once.
If that’s the case at your house, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your way of living. It is possible for family members to become too busy for their own good. There will inevitably be days when some activity interferes with family worship. That is nothing to feel guilty about. And the time to have it will obviously vary from family to family. Some will be able to get together around the breakfast table. For others, after supper will provide the right opportunity. Bedtime may be the only live option for a few. The point is, find a suitable time and, generally speaking, abide by it.
It is possible that some have not tried family worship because they don’t know what to do. Maybe we can offer a few suggestions. All of these elements need not necessarily be present every time you gather together, but here are some possibilities:
1. Bible reading. Remember to make it understandable to the children present. There is nothing magical about hearing the words of the Scripture if they are not understood. Use modern translations at times. Read passages that are most helpful to your daily lives. While all of the Bible is inspired of God and profitable, some parts are more applicable to the needs of daily living than others. The genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1-11, for example, would not be very conducive to family worship.
It would be helpful to memorize a pertinent verse each week, or memorize an extended passage over a period of time. Be sure to explain the meaning of the passage and apply it to the members of the family circle. Talk about how it applies to your own life and what changes you need to make as a result of hearing God’s Word. That will encourage the rest of the family to do the same. Some families act out the narrative portions of the Scripture to help fix the facts in their children’s minds. All this may take some preparation. While some may recoil in horror at such a thought, we are talking about the most important issues of life, and no cost should be too great to see that our children grow in their knowledge of the Lord through his Word.
2. Prayer. Make prayer meaningful to the children present. There is no need for long involved prayers, particularly where small children are concerned. Talk to God as a personal friend who is concerned about the specific things familiar to those in the family circle. Talk to him about problems the children are having, missionaries they know, their relatives, pastors, teachers, and friends, especially friends who need to know the Lord. Then be sure to discuss at future sessions how God has answered your prayers.
3. Other literature. Variety is the key to an interesting and captivating family worship. You can use a Bible storybook, books of Bible doctrine for children, or storybooks that use modern life situations to teach Bible truths and their application. Your local Christian bookstore will have a selection to choose from. You could set one day a week aside for a continuing Christian fiction story or a missionary biography. Read missionary letters periodically to acquaint children with the needs of the world. On Sundays you can talk about the application of the pastor’s message to your lives. There may be days when you merely want to share the biblical significance of a newspaper or magazine article. Keep it varied and your children will look forward to it.
4. Music. Some families like to sing together. That may be catastrophic for others. But if you can do it, singing some of the great hymns of the church or choruses with a Bible-centered message will be a meaningful worship experience. Music has a way of inscribing a message on the soul for keeps, so make sure the message is biblically sound. Even if you are not much on vocalizing, you can fill your home with good recorded Christian music, creating a spiritual atmosphere and implanting eternal spiritual truths in your children’s hearts.
In addition to these four elements of family worship, here are a few other suggestions to help make family worship pleasant rather than painful. For one thing, keep it relaxed and informal. Avoid the stiff, strained compulsive atmosphere that makes some children dread it like the plague. If it’s fun, your children will look back on it as one of the highlights of their life at home. If it’s tedious, it could wreck their walk with God. I was counseling Stan and Sally regarding some problems in their marriage and I sensed that the underlying cause was spiritual. A question or two brought this startling statement from Stan. “Yeah, we had family worship at our house. My dad got his Bible out, told everybody to shut up, then droned through a chapter or two in a pious tone before he went back to fighting with mom. I hated every minute of it.” Family worship should be a “want to,” not a “have to.” It would be better to have an exciting and enjoyable experience once a week than a boring and irrelevant one every day.
Fun does not mean frivolity, however. Keep it reverent. This is a time to talk about spiritual matters, and anything extraneous to that is out of order. Sometimes children develop an uncanny ability to sabotage family worship. If they aren’t in the mood for it, they can become silly and giddy and destroy it for everyone else. A firm hand will be necessary on those occasions.
Particularly for the sake of the younger members, keep it brief--not rushed, but purposely planned to be short. Five to ten minutes is long enough unless a spontaneous discussion ensues in which the children are vitally interested and involved. That has happened periodically at our house, and what a blessing it has been. My oldest son recently told me that “those famous Strauss family discussions” were one of the things he remembers most fondly about his childhood.
If a wide age span exists between the children in a family, it might be advantageous to gear the point of emphasis to a different aged child on successive days. As far as leadership is concerned, the biblical pattern puts that responsibility upon dad (Eph. 6:4). If he is an unbeliever or a carnal Christian who refuses to take the lead, mother should do it. But in either case, get started now. Every Christian family needs to gather together around the Word.
Ten minutes of family worship should not be the extent of the family’s training in the Word, however. We need to avail ourselves of every possible opportunity to show our children how the Word of God applies to their lives, such as when we are “. . . out for a walk; at bedtime and first thing in the morning” (Deut. 6:7, TLB). Jesus Christ is interested in every detail of our lives and his Word affects every facet of living. We need to let him become involved in every part of our family’s life. Take even the smallest problems to him in prayer as a family, anytime, anywhere, things as small as a lost pocketknife or a poor grade in a pop quiz. Thank him for the answers, whatever they are. Acknowledge his kindness together during times of family fun. Seek his wisdom and grace together during times of family crisis. Relate God’s Word to experiences the children have had, situations at hand, television programs they have seen, community affairs and news events with which they are familiar. Make the Lord himself the most common topic of conversation in your home. Give the children good Christian literature to read and good Christian music to listen to. Weave the Lord and his Word into the fabric of their lives.
Some may be wondering at what age the children should be when we begin this intensive program of Bible training. The prophet Isaiah may be of help on that question. “Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:9, 10, KJV). That seems to be rather young, doesn’t it? Timothy’s experience of learning the Scriptures from infancy would confirm the prophet’s intent. God wants us to make his Word a part of our children’s lives from their earliest conscious moments. The simplest truths come first; then as their minds mature, the more difficult doctrines follow. Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little, the very mind of God unfolds before them.
What will be the result of teaching our children the Scriptures? For one thing, they will trust the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. The Scriptures make one wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23, NIV). The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to create a sense of guilt over sin and the need to trust the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. That trust brings salvation (Acts 16:31).
There are two extremes to avoid when it comes to the salvation of our children. One danger is saying little or nothing to them about receiving Christ as their Savior. Some Christian parents have the erroneous idea that their children are saved because they are. Since they themselves are God’s children, they seem to think their children automatically become God’s grandchildren. So they neglect to teach them the reality and awfulness of sin, and the need for personal trust in Christ. As a result, the children grow up without ever being confronted with the necessity for a personal decision. They may live and die without Christ simply because their parents assumed they were Christians. Other parents avoid the issue because they don’t want to force anything on their children. “We’re going to let them decide for themselves,” they affirm. That may sound very noble, but heaven and hell are at stake here. The children must make their own decision, but we must guide them with the Word.
There is a second extreme to beware, and that is pushing a child to take some action like inviting Jesus into his heart before he comprehends the real issues of sin and the substitutionary death of Christ. Children respond easily to attractive offers. What child doesn’t want Jesus in his life? What child doesn’t want to escape hell and go to heaven? Then again, a child may make a decision to get the approval of an adult, or to get an award such as a Bible, or simply because his friends are doing it. Genuine salvation comes through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, and that is not always coincident with the alluring appeals or frightening warnings of misguided adults.
That is not to say a very young child cannot be saved. I would not venture to set limits on the Holy Spirit, and some children are able to grasp the issues long before others. I know children who have trusted Christ as Savior at three years of age and the change in their lives indicated that it was real. The important thing is that the child understand the seriousness of his sin and his inability to save himself, then intelligently put his trust in the all-sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. Teaching him the Word of God precept upon precept will bring about that understanding. When the Holy Spirit has done his work through the Word, we’ll know it by the child’s open and spontaneous response and his wholehearted commitment to the Savior. Then he will be genuinely born again and his life will be changed. Sometimes young teens who have made decisions very early in life begin to doubt their salvation and want to be sure. Encourage them to settle it and claim the assurance of the Scripture from that day forward (e.g. 1 John 5:11-13). It is possible in some cases that their early experience was analogous to a premature birth and needs to be reaffirmed.
Salvation is only the beginning, however. After a child has been born again, we can expect fruit in his life as with any other believer (2 Cor. 5:17). So we keep teaching him the Word to help him grow into a productive Christian. “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2, NASB). That is God’s way of bringing believers to spiritual maturity and strength. Faithfully building the Word of God into the lives of our children may help solve some of the discipline problems in our Sunday schools. It may reduce some of the rebelliousness among our youth. It may prevent some of the matrimonial crack-ups we see among professing Christians. It may eliminate some of the personnel shortages in the worldwide ministry of the gospel. And it may check some of the shipwrecks among full-time Christian servants.
I talked recently with two leaders in one of our nation’s outstanding youth movements. They shared with me some of the tragic stories of staff dropouts suffered by their organization. In most cases these young Christian workers had not had the benefit of childhood training in the Word, and as a result they were not capable of coping with the mammoth obstacles Satan had thrown in their way. God can radically change a person and transform him into a profitable servant of Jesus Christ at any point in his life. But there is no substitute for systematically learning the truths of the Scripture from one’s earliest days. It builds solid, stable men and women of God who bring joy to our hearts.
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