What if God placed a large diamond in your hand and told you to inscribe a sentence on it that would be read at the last day? On that diamond would be the index of your thoughts and an expression of all your feelings. What you carved into that gem would basically sum up who and what you are. I dare say that you would exercise great care in the words you chose to engrave.
You would carefully carve those words into the diamond so that even their appearance—the style and font you used—would say something about you.
God has given parents something far more precious than diamonds. He has given them the impressionable young minds of their children. On them they inscribe something every day. They do so by their instruction (or lack thereof). They do so by their example (or lack thereof). They do so by the manner in which they approach life. Something about every parent will remain in his or her children, and it will either work in their favor or against them.
To bring up a child in this world is a tremendous responsibility. There is no greater task God entrusts to us than that of being faithful, dedicated parents. In spite of that tremendous responsibility that God has given to parents, many parents leave the instruction of their children to chance. They spend very little time with their children. They drop them off at babysitters they hardly know or bring them to schools with questionable anti-Christian educational practices. Some people spend more time training their dog than they do their children.
The writer of Proverbs gives the responsibility of training a child to the parents. Such responsibilities do not fall upon the church or the schools. Nor is it the responsibility of the babysitter to train children—even if that is their grandmother. The responsibility falls upon the parents.
Many churches are strong supporters of Christian education. Not only do they provide excellent teaching of scriptural truths, but they also support Christian day schools and home-schooling. What a wonderful blessing it is when a variety of educational options are available through Christian schools and home-schooling curriculum! Church members are to support the parents of the congregation in the decision they make regarding how they instruct their children. It does children no good to see their parents degrade other parents because they have chosen a different way to educate their children. God has left the education of children up to the parents. If parents choose to teach them at home—good for them! If parents choose the assistance of a school system—good for them! That is their decision to make.
It does not matter, however, what curriculum you use or where you send your child to school if you do not care about what your child is learning. Parents need to work together to reinforce the Christian values their children learn in church, in school, and at home. There are at least three character qualities parents should teach their children if they want them to remain in their instruction as they grow older.
Children must be taught diligence in their responsibilities at home and school and in the neighborhood. Parents must teach them diligence in their prayer life and in their study of God’s Word. It is very disheartening for ministers to have catechism students come to class unprepared. I once approached a couple whose child was never prepared for catechism. The parents were somewhat indignant, claiming that their child could not be prepared for catechism because she had never received a catechism book. I immediately retrieved one out of storage and gave it to them. “Oh,” one of the parents said, “is this the book? It’s under the seat in the car.” These parents certainly were not exercising diligence!
In the Old Testament, Eli also failed to teach his sons diligence. Eli was a high priest and judge in Israel. His sons occupied their time in the tabernacle. They were supposed to supervise the offerings. Instead, they devised unlawful methods of taking the sacrifices and using them for their own benefit. They made a mockery out of the sacrificial system that God had established.
In 1 Samuel 2:27–29, God condemned Eli for his failure to train his sons in the way they should go. Through a prophet, God blamed Eli for the sin he had allowed his sons to commit. God said that it was nothing short of idolatry that Eli would honor his sons more than he honored God.
In addition to diligence, children need to be taught obedience. Obedience does not come naturally—but rebellion does. This is not something they will learn from Facebook or by texting each other. Obedience must be taught from the very beginning. The Bible says that it is well pleasing to the Lord when children obey their parents (Colossians 3:20).
Built into every human institution are patterns of authority. At creation, mankind was given dominion over all the earth, but God had authority over the human race. No matter what position a person may attain in this life, there will be someone in authority over him. God has put governing authorities in place (Romans 13:1). When children learn the laws of home, the rules of the school seem easier to follow. When they learn to obey the rules of the school, the laws of the state and the nation are easier to follow. Obedience is something you need all your life.
In order to teach your children obedience, you may need to discipline your child on occasion. “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24). In some countries, spanking is illegal. After all, some say, it may harm your child’s creativity. After your child finger paints all over the wall in your house, however, you may want to hamper his creativity a little bit.
Obviously, Proverbs 22:6 does not give the parent permission to beat his children, nor should he spank them every time they break some minor rule in the home. Parents should not be irrational when they are raising children. Children are to be taught that there are limitations and restrictions—set rules—that they are expected to obey. They must know that their parents are not afraid to punish them out of love.
As a father, Eli failed here as well. He did not teach his sons obedience. His sons had committed gross sins in the tabernacle. In response, Eli gave them a light rebuke. “He said to them, ‘Why do you do such things? For I hear of all your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress’” (2 Samuel 2:23–24).
Have you ever caught yourself saying these things to your children: “Don’t do that! What will the neighbors think? What will people say if they find out”? If we say these kinds of things, we are not setting any real moral standard for the children. Rather, we are instilling a sense of status in the neighborhood. Eli’s sons did not respond well to that kind of upbringing, and neither will your children. Eli never took the proper steps to see that what they were doing was corrected and that they turned away from their evil ways. Eli failed in his responsibility as a priest, and he failed in his responsibility as a father.
You can teach your children diligence and obedience and still have failed your greatest responsibility as a parent. You must also teach them reverence. They must be taught to honor the Lord and love his Word. Diligence is your child’s responsibility to himself; obedience is his responsibility to those in authority over him; reverence is his responsibility to the Lord.
Reverence is not just praying before meals, attending church, and reading the Bible. It certainly includes these things, but it is so much more. True reverence grows out of a heart devoted to Jesus Christ. Such a heart understands the need for forgiveness when we are not diligent and when we are disobedient. Such a heart looks to the cross of Jesus and finds in that once-for-all sacrifice forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation with God.
Genuine reverence is possible only in a person who is a child of God. If you want to teach your child to be reverent, your first step must be to make certain that you are right with God through Jesus Christ. Only then will you be able to teach your children the importance of a personal faith in Jesus Christ and the need to truly trust in him.
Teaching your children reverence is to take very seriously the questions you were asked at baptism. You will instruct your children to know all about Jesus, the cross, and their need for Him. In too many Christian families, mothers and fathers are afraid to talk about spiritual things with their children. They can talk about everything else, but they are uneasy talking about the Lord to those whom he has entrusted to their care.
I have heard people say that they will let their children decide—they do not want to impose their religious standards on them. Do you let your children decide what 2 + 2 is—as if this week it equals 4, but next week, if your child wants, it equals 5? Do you let your children decide when their car needs an oil change or when to change a flat tire? Do you say, “Just drive it that way. You decide when you want to change it”? It is equally absurd to let them decide religious truths. God says,
These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6–9).
We are to encourage and instruct our children in every opportunity made available to us.
Here again, we see how Eli failed. As the high priest of Israel, he had a position of spiritual leadership over an entire nation. Yet he could not fulfill his spiritual responsibility to his own family. He failed to teach his sons reverence for the Lord.
First Samuel 4 tells us the awful culmination of the sins of Eli’s sons. Because they had not been taught diligence, they desecrated the offerings of God. Because they had not been taught obedience, they defiled the tabernacle of God. And because they had not been taught reverence, they despised the holy things of God.
The irreverent, superstitious sons of Eli brought the ark of the covenant into battle after the Philistines had defeated the Israelites. The ark belonged in the Holy of Holies within the tabernacle. Only the high priest was permitted to enter into that sacred section of the tabernacle—and then only on the Day of Atonement. But the sons of Eli had never learned reverence for the things of God and trampled into the Holy of Holies and stole the ark from its sacred place in order to bring it into the battle with them. As a result, they were killed; the ark was taken by the Philistines; and the glory of the Lord was removed from Israel.
The responsibility God gives to parents toward their children is great. You are to teach them diligence, obedience, and reverence. Pray that God may give you the wisdom and the strength to do your job well. Pray to God that as parents you set examples of diligence, obedience, and reverence in all areas of your lives.
If the thought of such a responsibility should overwhelm you, as it should every parent, then look to God. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). He will give you the strength you need to fulfill your responsibility to your children. Make Jesus Christ the Lord of your life that he may become the Master of your family.
Rev. Wybren Oord
is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.