Mother’s day is a great day to focus on something that the Bible says we should do every day. The ten commandments tell us to “honor your father and mother…” and the Bible says the same thing in many places. To do so on one day of the year is a reminder that we ought to live in an honouring relationship with our mother and father.
The Bible has a lot to say about families and the theme that is most often talked about is how a relationship with God is passed on from one generation to another. One of the key verses that every Jewish child learned was Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” What followed that verse, which was the Jewish “John 3:16” was the instruction to teach children these truths and make sure that they understood them.
This morning, I want to talk about passing faith on to our children. It is a theme that I know is dear to the hearts of all mothers and fathers. As parents have brought their children for dedication today, it seems appropriate to think about this.
Anthusa lived from about 330 to 374 A.D. in Antioch. Widowed at the age of 20, she is remembered for her influence in the life of her son, John Chrysostom, one of the greatest preachers and leaders of the 4th-century church. Her contemporaries tell us Anthusa was cultured, attractive, and from a wealthy family. Yet she chose to not remarry after her husband's death, deciding instead to devote herself to rearing her two children, John and his sister.
John later wrote that his mother not only taught her children to know and love the teachings of the Bible, but also that her very life was a model of biblical teaching. A student of law, rhetoric and the Scriptures, John was ordained by Bishop Meletius and later became bishop of Constantinople. A zealous missionary himself, he inspired numerous others to serve as missionaries. And he always emphasized that a crucial factor to effective evangelism is for Christians to be living examples of Christ-centeredness. Surely he learned something of this from his mother Anthusa.
How can we live what Anthusa modelled?
I. Passing Faith To Our Children
We have a number of examples of people in the Bible who passed their faith on to their children. In Genesis 18:19 it says about Abraham, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
In the New Testament, II Timothy 1:5 tells us about the mother of Timothy. It says, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Timothy had a heritage in which faith was passed on.
All of these are examples in which people obeyed the Scripture to teach children the way of faith.
That teaching is found, as we have already noted, in the Old Testament law. Deuteronomy 4:9 says, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
The Proverbs contain that well known passage in 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
In the New Testament, Ephesians 6:4 encourages fathers to “bring them(your children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Billy Graham encourages us with the importance of what the Bible teaches when he says, “Let your home be your parish, your little brood your congregation, your living room a sanctuary, and your knee a sacred altar.”
But how do we do that? We all want to know what will be the most effective way in which to teach our children the truth of God.
Of course, in such a discussion we need to remember that there are no guarantees. Each person needs to make their own decision and if parents do not show the way to Christ people still come to Christ and if parents do show the way to Christ, sadly, some children will still reject that way. But that does not mean we should give up. Parents do have a powerful influence on their children and are able to lead them in the right direction. In fact, I believe that the influence of the parents is the most powerful influence there is in helping people move towards a relationship with Christ. How do we exercise that influence most effectively?
Although a concern, I am not overly concerned about the influence of public schools that teach truths that are opposite to what we believe.
Although it is something I would watch, I am not overly concerned about the other children my children play with.
Although Sunday School and clubs programs are valuable, I do not put too much weight on their ability to bring my children to faith.
Although child dedication is a good thing, we will never bring our children to Christ simply by the words we speak here today.
Although I have taken every opportunity to instruct my children and read the Bible to them, I would never count on “sit down I want to tell you something” as the most important method of raising my children.
I am firmly convinced that the most important way to communicate the faith to our children is by the way we live the faith every day. If it is true in society that our walk is so loud that people can’t hear what we say, it is even more true in the home. In front of friends and acquaintances we can live in such a way that we show them what we want them to see. That is not true with our children. They see what is real and so we need to be very much aware of what we are living in front of them. That is why it says in Deuteronomy 6:7, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” If it is to be passed on, the truth of God must be lived in all the little details of life. I am firmly convinced that if we do not live a relationship with God, our children will learn that, no matter what we say to them and if we do live a relationship with God, our children will learn that, even if we say nothing to them.
II. Values That Communicate Faith
All of us live by certain values, but it isn’t the values we declare, but the values we live by which they will learn. Therefore, it is important to examine the values by which we live our lives. We must ask, “what is the real thing in my life which my children will learn because they see me live it?”
A. Obedience Above Self
If we are to help our children see a genuine faith in Christ, they must see in us that we value obedience to Christ above self-centeredness.
Such an act is powerfully counter-cultural. We live in a society in which the highest value is self. Everyone does what suits them best. The entire economic system is built around the assumption that people are self centred. Years ago people would always go shopping in the US because the prices were so low. Governments and municipalities tried to persuade people to shop Canadian. When did people start shopping Canadian? When the dollar dropped so far that it was cheaper to do so. If you ever collect Employment Insurance you quickly learn that the system is built with the assumption that people are going to cheat. Why are there 160 TV channels available? Because marketers know that the more they can give people what they want, the more likely they will be able to sell their product. We are all steeped in self centred living.
If as Christians all our choices are made on the same level as the rest of the world, we will teach our children that self centred living is the right thing and in showing them that, we will not show them the way of Jesus.
If, on the other hand, we show our children by the choices we make and the lifestyle we consistently live that obedience to Jesus is a higher value than what I want for myself, then we will point the way to Christ.
If we obey God by accepting Jesus as Lord of our life we show them that dependence on God rather then self sufficiency is needed for salvation. If we obey God by praying on a regular basis, they will learn that we can go to God for help, rather than relying on our own resources. We live obedience when we show them that going to church on Sunday is a higher value than staying home and sleeping in. We live this when we let them see us put our offering into the offering bag instead of making another purchase. We let them see this when we explain why we shut off a TV program that although we were enjoying it, we know is contrary to what is noble, true, right, pure, lovely and admirable.
The Bible gives us the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth who were the parents of John the Baptist. He must have learned his obedience to God in part from his parents who modeled it for him because the Bible says about them in Luke 1:6, “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” They lived obedience and their son learned it and lived it as well.
One writer said, “Christian obedience means imitating God in holiness and Christ in humility and love. It springs from gratitude for grace received.”
Are we living obedience to God or self centeredness?
B. Love Above Rules
But how does this fit with what we learned several weeks ago when we learned that there is a danger in trying to be good. The danger is that we become impressed with our goodness, rely on it for acceptance with God and fail to live in relationship with God because we don’t need him anymore. For this reason it is imperative that we also adopt and live the value that loving Jesus is more important than legalistic living.
Whenever I see a family in which the rules are very strict, I am afraid for them. It seems that in those families, often one or more of the children will reject the strictness and, in the process, reject the faith.
Not that we shouldn’t have principles or rules that govern and guide our life, but if our children and others see that the rules are the most important thing - more important even than a relationship to Jesus - they get the wrong message. Rules and principles are good ways to live out love for Jesus, but they are never above love for Jesus.
This was the problem with the Pharisees and Jesus accused them in Luke 11:42, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
Spurgeon said, “The bite of legalism spreads paralysing venom into the body of Christ. Its poison blinds our eyes, dulls our edge, and arouses pride in our hearts. Soon our love is eclipsed as it turns into a mental clipboard with a long checklist.”
I read a story about a guard that was posted in a particular place. One day someone questioned why there was a guard at that place. As they went up the chain of command, no one seemed to know, they had all simply been following orders. Eventually a historian did some research and found that 80 years before a rose had grown there, and a queen had posted a guard to protect the rose. The rose was long gone, but the guard was still there. That is how it is with legalism, rules take over without reason. If our rules will be based on Scripture and on wisdom and are acted out in love, that value will pass on as faith in our children.
C. Integrity Above Advantage
Another value which we must live if we are to pass faith on to our children is to put living with integrity above living by the value of gaining the best advantage for ourselves.
What do you do if you are given too much change in a store? A simple situation like this, which has probably happened to all of us, gives us a great opportunity for modeling faith to our children. If we keep the change and laugh at the clerk who made the mistake, we model for our children that the highest value is what gives me the best advantage. If, on the other hand, we return the money, we show them that honesty, even when we don’t have to, is our highest value. Living like that consistently is what integrity is all about.
There are a thousand little decisions in a lifetime that demonstrate what the consistent values in our life are. Do you watch things you think your children shouldn’t know you are watching? Are your bills always paid on time? Do you keep your word even if it ends up being a disadvantage to you? There is a German proverb that says, “A man shows his character by what he laughs at.” Will Rogers said, “So live that you would not mind selling your pet parrot to the town gossip.”
The importance of this is that it demonstrates what is real for us. If we have to think constantly, “how will this impact my children?” we are pretending. If integrity is not natural, our children will quickly know what is real for us.
Proverbs 10:9 says, “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.” Not only is that true in society, but even more in the family as Proverbs 20:7 indicates, “The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him.”
Mark Moring tells the following story:
“It was late, and my young sons, Peter and Paul, had been in bed for at least an hour. My wife and I had just returned from our Bible study group, and I snuck into the boys' room to say good night.
"Dad, can I have some ice cream?"
"No, Peter, it's late, way past bedtime."
"But Dad, you promised."
He was right. Peter had asked for ice cream earlier in the day, but we didn't have any. And I had said, "I'll get some for you later, I promise."
Dinner came and went. We cleaned up the kitchen; the boys picked up their toys. The sitter arrived. And my wife and I left for Bible study.
I'd forgotten all about the ice cream. But Peter hadn't.
So, even though it was after 10 o'clock, I hopped in the car, drove to the convenience store, got a half gallon, and hurried home.
Peter and I enjoyed that chocolate-vanilla swirl together. After all, I had a promise to keep.” -- Mark Moring, editor of Men of Integrity. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1.
D. People Above Things
There is an episode on Home Improvement in which Tim yells at one of his boys because he loses one of Tim’s tools. In the end, he apologises because with Wilson’s help he realizes that he has shown that he loves his tools more than his son.
What do we demonstrate as the highest value in our life, things or people?
If the job we have to do -whether that be at work or cleaning or sewing or whatever - is always more important than time spent with our children, we communicate what is our highest value.
I once hard about a family in which a child had been told many times not to play with a certain item. It was breakable and valuable as an heirloom to the mother. One day the child disobeyed and broke the item. Although the mother was sorry that the item was broken, when she dealt with her child, she dealt with the sin of disobedience and forgave her. It was evident that she valued her child more than the heirloom.
Although God has created all things, it is only people whom he has declared his love for. That value of people over things is a godly value and one that we must also live.
What are our children learning from the way we live? Do they know that we value people more than things?
It is a precious privilege to help our children discover the love God has for them and the forgiveness and hope that is theirs in Christ.
I am convinced that our children will learn the values we live. If we send them to church, but don’t go to church; if we tell them to pray, but don’t pray; if we say we love God, but hate our neighbour; what are they learning?
The sobering thing is that we can be blind to what our true values are. In fact, I would say that if we are not living a certain value, we probably don’t believe it.
If we are truly concerned that our children follow the Lord, we need to follow the Lord all day, every day. May God help us to know the values we live by and live the values that will point to Him.